Myanmar’s military has charged Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s elected leader, with a second offence, this time under the country’s natural disaster management law in a move that drew condemnation from the United States and the United Kingdom.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with an extra [violation] … under the Natural Disaster Management law,” lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said on Tuesday.
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Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained by the military ahead of a coup on February 1, has already been charged for illegally importing walkie-talkies found in her home.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told a regular press briefing that the US was “disturbed” by the new charges.
“As the president has said the military’s seizure of power is a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law,” Price said at the Tuesday briefing in Washington DC.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also condemned the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, saying she must be released.
“The charges against Aung San Suu Kyi are politically motivated, and the latest example of the Myanmar military undermining democratically elected politicians,” he said in a statement.
“The UK and likeminded nations will not ignore these violations. We will ensure those responsible are held to account.”
Protesters once again took to the streets on Tuesday despite a heavy military and police presence demanding the generals step down and Aung San Suu Kyi, and other detainees, be released.
A UN envoy warned the army of “severe consequences” for any harsh response to the demonstrations.
At a press conference boycotted by many reporters from the local media, the military, which imposed a state of emergency for one year after seizing power, accused the protesters of violence and intimidation.
They repeated an earlier promise that it would hold an election and hand over power, and denied the removal of an elected government was a coup, or that its leaders had been detained.
The military announced it had seized power on February 1, shortly after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior leaders, claiming their actions were necessary because of fraud in November’s general election.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide in the election, improving its performance as the military’s proxy party saw its support whither away. The elections commission has found no indication of fraud in the election.
Under the 2008 military-drafted constitution, the armed forces are guaranteed a quarter of all seats in parliament as well as the control of key ministries.
“Our objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party,” said Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council set up by the military.
Zaw Min Tun said the military would not hold power for long.
“We guarantee … that the election will be held,” he told the nearly two-hour news conference, which the military broadcast from the capital, Naypyidaw, live over Facebook – a platform it has banned.
Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint, the president, Zaw Min Tun dismissed the suggestion they were in detention, saying they were in their homes for their security while the law took its course.
He also said Myanmar’s foreign policy would not change, that it remained open for business and deals would be upheld.
The military has tried to stifle the protests through an increasing presence on the streets and regular internet blackouts. Services were throttled for a third night from Tuesday into Wednesday with connectivity reduced to 19 percent of ordinary levels from 1am local time (18:30 GMT), according to NetBlocks, which monitors network disruptions.
As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has also triggered strikes with doctors, teachers and railway workers among those refusing to work for the military.
The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule that ended in 2011 when the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics.
But violence has been limited this time, although police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber-coated bullets, to disperse protesters.
Some 452 people have been arrested since the coup, according to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps track of the mostly nightly arrests. Of those, 417 people remain in detention, it said.
An emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday called for the new military government to release all “arbitrarily detained” people and for the military to hand power back to Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration.
Myanmar’s traditional allies, including Russia and China, have distanced themselves from what they have described as interference in Myanmar’s “internal affairs”.