ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia
The military persecution of the NLD leader could strengthen its symbolic power.
Overthrown Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi poses with a pot of roses named after her, during a visit to Kunming, China, on May 17, 2017.
Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will testify in court for the first time later this month to defend herself on charges of incitement, her lawyers announced yesterday.
According to the Associated Press, the 76-year-old Nobel laureate will testify in her defense starting Oct. 26. She will appear alongside two co-accused accused of incitement: former President Win Myint, who is due to testify on October 12, and Myo Aung, former mayor of Naypyidaw, who will testify on November 2.
Not surprisingly, all proceedings against the leader are closed to the public and the press. The defense refused to call witnesses.
The incitement case concerns statements posted on the Facebook page of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party shortly after it was overthrown by the military on the morning of February 1st. This is just one of the lists of accusations against the 76-year-old Nobel laureate from the military junta since its takeover. These include five counts of corruption, two counts of violating the restrictions on the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020 election campaign, and — most popularly — the charge of illegally importing a walkie-talkie. Aung San Suu Kyi is also accused of violating the Myanmar Colonial Era Official Law Act.
Since the coup, the army has been detained by Aung San Suu Kyi at an unknown location in the capital Naypyidaw. Her current health is uncertain. Last week, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw requested that court hearings be held every two, not every week, due to ill health, which is why she missed the court hearing last month. “She is tired. At her age, it is not convenient to sit at the hearing every day for a whole week, ”he said. “It’s not a worrying situation. She’s just tired. ”
Lawyer Aung San Suu Kyi’s announcement came after her former ally Phyo Min Thein, chief minister of the Yangon region before the coup, testified at a concurrent corruption trial last week that he handed her large amounts of money and gold. This closely echoed the claim of the military anti-corruption agency that Aung San Suu Kyi had illegally received $ 600,000 in bribes and seven gold coins.
Each of the four corruption charges, which include two for accepting bribes and two for associating to commit corruption in connection with real estate transactions (the fifth has not yet been prosecuted), is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A conviction on any of these charges would probably be enough to permanently oust Aung San Suu Kyi from politics.
Indeed, this is undoubtedly the purpose of the junta’s relentless accusation. Aung San Suu Kyi is currently facing enough charges that authorities have the option of holding her or being bound in court indefinitely, while convictions on any number of them would be enough to send her to another period of house arrest or imprisonment.
Still, it remains to be seen whether the junta will be able to print Aung San Suu Kyi out of the Myanmar story. Encouraged by her lofty lineage – her father Aung San is considered the father of Myanmar’s independence – the myth of “Our Lady” has grown to great proportions during her long years of captivity in a crumbling family house on the shores of Lake Yangon. Therefore, there is every chance that the current military persecution will simply strengthen its symbolic power.
It is certain that the current resistance to the coup government was motivated not only by the attempt to return “Mother Suu” to the throne; indeed, the failure of the NLD’s engagement in the military during the 2010 reforms radicalized many young activists and led them to go beyond the tradition of democratic advocacy focused on the NLD. Yet, as long as resistance is offered to the military junta, trials against it could have the unintended effect of making it a greater icon than ever.