Myanmar coup: Aung San Suu Kyi charged with breaching import-export laws

A police document said the military raided Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's home and found hand-held radios that were illegally imported. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Myanmar's military government filed criminal charges against deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and president Win Myint on Wednesday (Feb 3).

Ms Suu Kyi, 75, who has been detained since the military staged a coup on Monday, is accused of breaching Myanmar's export and import law, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail and/or a fine.

Mr Win Myint, 69, is accused of breaching the Natural Disaster Management Law, which similarly carries a maximum jail term of three years.

The duo will be remanded until Feb 15 pending further investigation, according to documents seen by The Straits Times.

The charges came as Myanmar's coup drew condemnation from the Group of Seven (G-7) - the world's largest developed economies - which demanded the military end the one-year state of emergency it has imposed and restore power to the government that was democratically elected on Nov 8.

Newly elected lawmakers were due to convene on Monday, when the military detained key political leaders, blocked access to the capital Naypyitaw and cut communication lines. It has since dispersed lawmakers to their hometowns, though key office holders from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) party are reportedly under tight surveillance, even at home.

The military has raided some NLD offices and reportedly ordered party officials to remove Ms Suu Kyi's portraits.

The Tatmadaw - Myanmar's armed forces - is alleging massive fraud in the Nov 8 election - a claim not backed by election observers - and that it amounted to a threat to Myanmar's sovereignty. Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has called the coup "unavoidable" and said that the military regime will organise an election once the alleged irregularities are resolved.

"We would like to call on all the citizens to work together with the Tatmadaw to build a genuine and disciplined multiparty democratic system with full justice," said a statement released by the senior general's office that was published in state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday.

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Locals who saw the NLD as a bulwark against the return of the military rule experienced before 2010 are deeply sceptical of the Tatmadaw's promise.

On Wednesday, the central bank had to issue a press release to assure a jumpy population with painful memories of junta-era demonetisation that their kyat notes were still valid.

"I don't think this (emergency) will go away within a few months," Mr Maw Htun Aung, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy candidate in the Nov 8 election, told ST. "We will see a lot more restrictions in the coming days or months."

Journalists and human rights activists have also started taking precautions, expecting a wider crackdown on civil liberties.

The coup will impact not just politics, but education and healthcare as well, said Mr Maw Htun Aung.

"This coup will break the trust between the government and the citizens, a trust we worked so hard to manage over the past years," he said. "Civil servants are discouraged. They know this coup will bring a corrupt system."

According to the police document circulated on Wednesday, the military found illegally imported and used walkie-talkies when it raided Ms Suu Kyi's home.

Mr Win Myint, meanwhile, is alleged to have violated Covid-19 containment rules when he greeted a passing convoy of NLD supporters outside the presidential palace in September, during the run-up to the election.

The chair of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Charles Santiago, described the charges as ludicrous.

"This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimise their illegal power grab from Myanmar's democratically-elected government," he said in a Facebook post.

Mr Kingsley Abbott, the International Commission of Jurists' director of global accountability and international justice, said: "The population of Myanmar, minorities who have always been vulnerable, activists and members of the NLD, and others are extremely vulnerable right now."

There was a "real possibility" that the Tatmadaw would start misusing domestic laws against its perceived opponents, he told ST.

NLD supporters have started a civil disobedience campaign to oppose the coup peacefully.

Medical staff make a three finger salute with red ribbons on their uniforms at the Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on Feb 3, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

On Wednesday, doctors and other medical workers in Yangon and Mandalay wore red ribbons to work and did three-finger salutes in photographs shared on social media. The three-finger salute is widely used by pro-democracy supporters in neighbouring Thailand as a symbol against dictatorship.

Anti-coup protesters have also lit candles by their windows and live-streamed themselves banging loudly on pots and pans, a local tradition to drive away evil.

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