Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in a court hearing via video link and was charged with additional criminal offences on Monday, as anti-coup protesters rallied across the country again in defiance of a security force crackdown that killed at least 18 people the previous day.
The 75-year-old looked healthy as she took part in the court hearing from the capital, Naypyidaw, and asked to see her legal team, lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters news agency.
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The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which swept last November’s now-annulled election, has not been seen in public since her detention on February 1 when the military seized power, alleging widespread electoral fraud.
Shortly afterwards, she was charged with illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios as well as violating a natural disaster law by staging a campaign rally during the coronavirus pandemic.
A third charge, filed on Monday, was under a section of the colonial-era penal code prohibiting the publication of information that may “cause fear or alarm” or disrupt “public tranquillity”, Min Min Soe said.
Another charge was also added under a telecommunications law, the lawyer said, which stipulates that equipment needs a licence.
The next hearing will be on March 15.
Police fired teargas and stun grenades to disperse more than 300 demonstrators near the Sin Yay Twin bus stop on Yangon's Insein Road at 10:45am. The protesters have retreated north to Butar Yone bus stop. Local residents are helping teargas victims.#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/TESzaORqUu
— Frontier Myanmar (@FrontierMM) March 1, 2021
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) March 1, 2021
Khin Maung Zaw, a second lawyer for the deposed leader, said her legal team had not been able to speak to her ahead of the hearing.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the February 1 coup, which brought a halt to the country’s tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule. It has drawn widespread international condemnation and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets of cities and towns across Myanmar.
‘We will never forgive you’
As Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court, police in Yangon fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters gathered at multiple locations throughout the city.
Many of the protesters wore hard hats, while those at the front lines carried makeshift shields to protect themselves from security forces, who killed at least four people in Yangon and wounded dozens more the previous day.
In the city’s Kyauktada township, one protester was seen blacking out security cameras, while in other parts of Yangon, demonstrators taped to the ground hundreds of pictures of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, bearing the words: “Shame on you, dictator, we will never forgive you.”
Crowds also marched in the second city of Mandalay, while live video on Facebook showed a small crowd of protesters gathered across a street in Lashio, Shan State, chanting slogans as police marched towards them.
The new rallies came a day after the worst violence since the coup.
Clashes took place in various parts of the country on Sunday, as police opened fire on crowds in Yangon, Mandalay, Dawei and other places after tear gas and warning shots failed to clear protesters demanding the restoration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
Some of the security forces belonged to units notorious for tough crackdowns on ethnic rebel groups.
The United Nations said it had “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded around Myanmar. Counts made by other sources, such the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news outlet, put the death toll in the 20s.
Any of those reports would make it the highest single-day death toll since the military takeover.
“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement, referring to several cities, adding that the forces also used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and stun grenades.
Following the killings, people erected makeshift sidewalk shrines at the spots where several of the victims were shot and also paid their respects by standing outside the hospitals from which the bodies of the victims were being released to their families.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said at least 270 people had been detained on Sunday, from a total of 1,132 it said had been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup.
Those arrested included one journalist who was beaten in northern Myitkyina, Kachin State, according to local outlet The 74 Media.
The military has not commented on Sunday’s violence.
But in a long statement published in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry on Monday restated the military’s rationale for its takeover and declared that the junta “is exercising utmost restraint to avoid the use of force in managing the violent protests systematically, in accordance with domestic and international laws in order to keep minimum casualties”.
The unrest has drawn global condemnation, including from the UN, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Turkey.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the crackdown as “abhorrent”, while Canada’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, said the military’s use of lethal force against its own people was “appalling”. Both called for a united response.
Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said it was clear the military’s assault on protesters would continue so the international community should ratchet up its response.
He proposed a global arms embargo, more sanctions from more countries on those behind the coup, sanctions on the military’s businesses and a UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court.
“Words of condemnation are welcome but insufficient. We must act,” Andrews said in a statement.
“The nightmare in Myanmar that is unfolding before our eyes will get worse. The world must act.”
Singapore also added its voice to the chorus of concern on Monday, with the country’s foreign minister calling on the Myanmar military authorities to desist from the use of lethal force, “and to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation to prevent further bloodshed, violence and deaths”.
Vivian Balakrishnan also told the Singaporean parliament that top diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, will hold a special meeting on the issue on Tuesday.
A representative of Myanmar’s military authorities will speak at the virtual meeting, he said.