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Suu Kyi hit with second charge as Myanmar junta tightens grip

Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with another charge on Tuesday, after the military imposed a second straight overnight internet shutdown in an attempt to grind down an anti-coup uprising.

In the two weeks since the generals ousted Suu Kyi and put her under house arrest in the administrative capital Naypyidaw, big cities and isolated village communities alike have been in open revolt.

The military justified its power seizure by alleging widespread voter fraud in November elections won by Suu Kyi’s party.


After her detention in a dawn raid on February 1 — the day of the coup — she was charged under an obscure import and export law, over walkie talkies that were found in her home during a search.

The Nobel laureate’s lawyer told AFP Tuesday she had been hit with a second charge, of violating the country’s disaster management law.

“She was charged under section 8 of the Export and Import law and section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management law as well,” Khin Maung Zaw told AFP.

While it was unclear how the disaster law applied in Suu Kyi’s case, it has been used against deposed president Win Myint — also arrested on February 1 — relating to a campaign event that the junta alleges broke coronavirus-related restrictions.

Khin Maung Zaw added that Suu Kyi and Win Myint, both of whom he has yet to have any contact with, were expected to appear via video conference during a March 1 trial.

Both defendants were in a “safer place” and “in good health”, according to military spokesman Zaw Min Tun.


“It’s not like they were arrested — they are staying at their houses,” the general, who became the country’s vice-minister of information after the coup, told a press conference Tuesday.

But British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab blasted the charges, and reiterated a call to release Suu Kyi and other detained politicians.

“The charges against Aung San Suu Kyi are politically motivated,” he said in a statement, warning, “We will ensure those responsible are held to account”.

More than 420 people have been arrested since the coup, according to a list of confirmed detentions from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.


– ‘We didn’t sleep the whole night’ –

Security forces have used increasing force to quell huge nationwide street protests and a disobedience campaign encouraging civil servants to strike.

Troops have fanned out around the country in recent days.

Rubber bullets, tear gas and even sling shots have been used against protesters, and one demonstration in Mandalay on Monday saw police beating journalists hours before authorities again cut internet access.

“They shut down the internet because they want to do bad things,” said 44-year-old Win Tun, who lives in the commercial capital Yangon.

“We didn’t sleep the whole night so we could see what would happen.”

Undeterred, crowds returned to the streets of Yangon and around the country Tuesday morning.

“I want more people to join the protests, we don’t want to be seen as weak,” said university student Thwe Ei Sann.

A large crowd blocked railway tracks outside Mawlamyine to prevent a Yangon-bound train from leaving the port city.

Many of the country’s train drivers have joined the anti-coup work boycotts, frustrating junta efforts to restart the national railway network after a Covid-19 shutdown.

At the weekend, Yangon resident used tree trunks to block police vehicles sent to take striking rail workers back to their stations.


– ‘This is theatre’ –

The international community has unleashed a torrent of condemnation against the leaders of Myanmar’s new military administration, which insists it took power lawfully.

The Chinese ambassador to Myanmar said Tuesday that “the current development in Myanmar is absolutely not what China wants to see”.

He added that Beijing had good relations with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

So far, only the United States has announced targeted sanctions against the generals, calling on them to relinquish power.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said that “sanctions are expected”, and that the regime would continue to “maintain friendly relations” with the international community.

UN ambassador Christine Schraner Burgener spoke to junta number two Soe Win on Monday and warned him that the regime’s network blackouts “undermine core democratic principles”, according to a spokesman.

State media reported the following day that the general had discussed “security measures” with the envoy.

UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews told AFP Monday that he did not expect Suu Kyi’s court hearing to be fair.

“There’s nothing fair about the junta. This is theatre,” Andrews said.