Myanmar files new charge against Aung San Suu Kyi

Police in Myanmar filed a new charge against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said Tuesday, which may allow her to be held indefinitely without trial.

Lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, that Suu Kyi has been charged with violating Article 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law, which has been used to prosecute people who have broken coronavirus restrictions.

Suu Kyi, who was ousted in a military coup on February 1, has already been charged with possessing walkie-talkies that were imported without being registered.

The maximum punishment for the coronavirus rules violation is three years’ imprisonment. However, the new charge may allow her to be held indefinitely without trial because a change in the Penal Code instituted by the junta last week permits detention without court permission.

Ousted President Win Myint was charged under the same law when he and Suu Kyi were detained during the army’s takeover. Suu Kyi held the top government post with the title of state counsellor.

Groups of demonstrators turned out in Yangon and other cities on Tuesday to protest the coup and demand that Suu Kyi and members of her ousted government be freed from detention.

In Yangon, police blocked off the street in front of the Central Bank, which protesters have targeted amid speculation online that the military is seeking to seize money from them.

Buddhist monks demonstrated outside the U.N.’s local office.

The protests are taking place in defiance of an order banning gatherings of five or more people.

Around 3,000 demonstrators – mainly students – returned to the streets in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city, carrying posters of Suu Kyi and shouting for the return of democracy.

Security presence was low-key around the march, with most police guarding key buildings in the city, such as state banks branches.

Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told reporters he had not arrived at the court in time to see a videoconference the judge said had been held with Suu Kyi. The lawyer said he has not yet seen his client.

The court’s videoconference was unexpected because it had only announced a hearing on Wednesday on the walkie-talkie charge.

On Monday in Mandalay, soldiers and police violently broke up a gathering of more than 1,000 protesters in front of the Myanmar Economic Bank. They attacked the protesters with slingshots and sticks, and police could be seen aiming long guns into the air amid sounds that resembled gunfire. Local media reported rubber bullets were fired into the crowd and that a few people were injured.

The government ordered internet access blocked on Sunday and Monday nights without giving a reason. It has in the past few weeks imposed selective and ineffective blocks on social media platforms and prepared a draft internet law that would criminalize many online activities.

There is also widespread speculation that the government is installing a firewall system that can monitor or block most or all online activity.

State media were acknowledging the protest movement with indirect references. The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported about a meeting of the State Administration Council, the new top governing body, and quoted its chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, saying the authorities “are handling the ongoing problems with care.”

It said the council discussed taking legal action against protesters, providing “true information” to the media, and resuming public transport, an apparent reference to strikes and slowdowns by truckers and state railway workers.-AP

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