The first trial of former Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was overthrown in a military coup and repeatedly charged by the military junta, opened on Monday, with observers denouncing “a purely politically motivated show trial”.
The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate was on Monday standing trial on charges of illegally importing walkie-talkies, failing to comply with coronavirus restrictions and violating a telecommunications law.
She will also appear on Tuesday on sedition charges alongside former president Win Myint.
A closely guarded court has been specially set up for this purpose in the capital Naypyidaw, built in the heart of the jungle in the 1990s by the former military regime.
Suu Kyi, 75, is also charged with violating a colonial-era state secrets law and corruption, accused of taking more than half a million dollars and about 10 kilos of gold in bribes. No trial date has yet been set for these two charges, the most serious against her.
She was arrested on February 1 as the military junta seized power, alleging widespread fraud in the November parliamentary election Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. She has been under house arrest since but remains “in good health,” according to her lawyers.
She now faces long prison terms if convicted.
“We are preparing for the worst,” one of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said, denouncing “absurd” accusations fabricated to “keep her off the country’s (political) stage and sully her image.”
The former leader has only been allowed to meet with her legal team twice, each meeting no longer than 30 minutes.
Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network said that “we are going to see a purely politically motivated show trial.”
“(Junta leader) Min Aung Hlaing is determined to lock her up for the rest of her life,” she added.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the putsch that ended a 10-year democratic hiatus, with almost daily demonstrations, massive strikes, and renewed clashes between the army and ethnic rebel factions.
The protest movement is being violently suppressed by security forces who have killed more than 860 civilians, including women and children, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Nearly 5,000 people have been detained, with NGOs reporting cases of extra-judicial executions, torture and violence against women.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet deplored the intensification of the violence on Friday, adding that the junta was “entirely responsible for this crisis”.
Aung San Suu Kyi has already spent more than 15 years under house arrest under previous military dictatorships, before being released in 2010 and taking over the leadership of the country five years later.
For a long time an icon of democracy compared to Nelson Mandela, Gandhi or Martin Luther King, her image has been considerably tarnished in recent years following the tragedy of the Rohingya Muslims who fled in 2017 by the hundreds of thousands from the exactions of the army to take refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The fact that she has become a political prisoner again and the trials that await her could once again change the situation.