World

Suu Kyi testifies in court but a gag order prevents her defense from being made public

October 27, 2021
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

YANGON — Myanmar's ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi testified in court on Tuesday for the first time since she was overthrown in a military coup, CNN reported.

Her courtroom testimony in the capital Naypyidaw, however, was not publicly available due to a gag order imposed on her legal team by the military junta.

The 76-year-old Nobel laureate was testifying at her trial on one of several charges brought against her. She had pleaded not guilty to the charge of incitement last month, alongside ousted President Win Myint, whose testimony on October 12 challenged the military's insistence that no coup took place.

That charge stems from letters bearing their names that were sent to embassies urging them not to recognize the junta.

Suu Kyi, who was Myanmar's state counselor and de facto leader of the country, has been hit with a raft of criminal charges that could see her put behind bars for decades if found guilty.

They include several charges of corruption -- which carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years -- violating Covid-19 pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign, illegally importing and possessing walkie talkies, and breaking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act -- which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Myanmar's state media -- the mouthpiece of the junta -- has not reported on Tuesday's court proceedings and the hearings are closed to reporters and the public. The gag order imposed on Suu Kyi's legal team means there is now little avenue for the world to know how her trial is progressing, or about her health.

In September, Suu Kyi appeared "dizzy" as she heard charges and was deemed too ill to attend court. Her lawyer in early October asked the court that hearings for each case be held every two weeks rather than every week, over concerns the busy schedule was having on her health, according to Reuters.

Ousted Myanmar President says army tried to force him to resign hours before coup

Ousted Myanmar President says army tried to force him to resign hours before coup

A military spokesperson did not answer CNN's calls for comment.

Local media Myanmar Now reported that Suu Kyi "was able to defend her innocence very well." CNN cannot independently verify the report.

Suu Kyi and her ruling National League for Democracy party was overthrown when the military seized power in a February 1 coup, ostensibly over alleged election irregularities. She has been held in detention at an undisclosed location in the capital since then. Her lawyers and supporters consider the charges against her to be politically motivated.

During his testimony last week, Win Myint, who was Myanmar's head of state, told the court that senior military officials approached him on February 1 and told him to resign due to ill health.

Win Myint said he declined the proposal, saying he was in good health, according to his lawyer. Officers then threatened his decision would "cause harm" but Win Myint said he would rather die than consent, the lawyer told CNN.

The gag order on Suu Kyi and Win Myint's lawyers was imposed following this hearing.

Tuesday also marked the first day of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit in Brunei. The summit began without a representative from Myanmar after the bloc excluded Gen. Min Aung Hlaing from attending over a failure to end the violence, allow humanitarian aid into the country and give access to an ASEAN envoy.

Myanmar has been wracked by violence, unrest and humanitarian crises since the military, led by Min Aung Hlaing, seized power more than eight months ago.

In August, Min Aung Hlaing declared himself Prime Minister of a newly formed caretaker government and said elections would be held by 2023.

But there remains widespread public opposition to the junta. The months since the coup have been marked with widespread bloodshed and violence as the junta cracked down on nationwide pro-democracy protests, a prolonged civil disobedience movement and increasing conflict with "people's defense forces" who are taking up arms against junta forces.

Almost 1,200 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, and nearly 9,200 have been arrested -- including journalists, activists, protesters and anyone deemed in opposition of the military -- with credible reports of torture, according to human rights and advocacy group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Last week, the military announced it was releasing 5,600 prisoners detained during the protests the coup. But dozens of political prisoners were re-arrested moments after being released, according to human rights groups and eyewitnesses.

The junta has also disputed the number of people killed since the coup and blames the violence on the National Unity Government (NUG) -- which operates mainly from abroad or undercover and considers itself the legitimate government in Myanmar -- and various ethnic armed organizations, which it labeled "terrorist groups."


October 27, 2021
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