Myanmar police filed a new charge against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, which might make it possible for her to be held “indefinitely without trial as part of an intensifying crackdown by authorities who seized power in a coup,” according to The Associated Press.
The Feb. 1 military takeover in Myanmar resulted in Suu Kyi being detained and deposed. She is already facing one charge of illegal possession of “walkie-talkies — an apparent attempt to provide a legal veneer for house arrest.”
The most recent charge is for breaking a law that has reportedly been used to take legal action against those who violate COVID-19 restrictions, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in a court in Myanmar’s capital city of Naypyitaw.
The charge against violating COVID-19 restrictions has a maximum penalty of three years in prison. What has raised more concern, however, is that the charge could create a situation where Suu Kyi could be “detained indefinitely without court permission.” This is because of changes in the Penal Code put into place last week by the junta, the military group that recently took control of the country by force.
Some had been hopeful that Myanmar was moving towards democracy, but two weeks ago, the military coup “shocked many in the international community.” Protesters have been gathering since the coup, but the junta has gotten involved by violently dissolving the demonstrations and even issuing orders to block access to the internet.
According to the AP:
On Monday, security forces pointed guns at a group of 1,000 demonstrators and attacked them with slingshots and sticks in the city of Mandalay. Local media reported that police also fired rubber bullets into a crowd and that a few people were injured.
Protests continued Tuesday in Yangon, the country’s largest city, and elsewhere. In Yangon, police blocked off the street in front of the Central Bank, which protesters have targeted amid speculation online that the military is seeking to seize money from it. Buddhist monks demonstrated outside the U.N.’s local office in the city.
There is a current order in place that bans any gatherings of more than five people, but protests are occurring in spite of this restriction. On Tuesday, about 3,000 people, mostly students, proceeded with the protests, reportedly “carrying posters of Suu Kyi and shouting for the return of democracy.” Following the confrontations on Monday, security was reported to be “low-key around the march.”
As reported by the BBC:
On Saturday, the military gave itself the power to make arrests, carry out searches and hold people for more than 24 hours without a court ruling, while telling journalists not to describe the military’s takeover as a coup.
The state-run media has reportedly spoken about the protests, but not directly.
The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper did a report about a meeting of the State Administration Council, the new top governing body. In it, the paper quoted the chief of the council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who said the authorities “are handling the ongoing problems with care.” It said the council talked about providing “true information” to the media and taking legal action against demonstrators.
On Sunday and Monday nights, according to the AP:
…the military ordered an internet blackout — almost entirely blocking online access. Once before in recent weeks it imposed a similar blackout and has also tried less successfully to block social media platforms. It has also prepared a draft law that would criminalize many online activities.
The military prevented parliament from starting its first session on Feb. 1, which, according to BBC reports at the time, “would have enshrined the election result by approving the next government.” The military claims that there was fraud in the election last year, and plans to maintain power for a year before holding new elections. Pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi won the disputed election in a landslide and the state election commission has found no proof of fraud.
After the takeover, members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party created a committee and declared themselves the true representatives of the people of Myanmar. They asked for recognition from the international community, but none has come.
The United Nations, the United States, and others have called for the military to relinquish power and give it back to the elected government, as well as release Suu Kyi and others who are being held in custody.