Myanmar has fallen into a “human rights catastrophe,” warned the UN’s top human rights official in the run-up to the scheduled start of the trial of the ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces criminal charges that could lead to to decades. in prison.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who previously spent a total of 15 years in detention at the behest of Myanmar generals and is widely revered as a symbol of the country’s longing for democracy, is expected to appear in court in Naypyidaw on Monday.
She was placed under house arrest in February when the military launched a coup, sparking defiant protests from the public demanding the return of democracy. In a statement on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the country had “gone from being a fragile democracy to a human rights catastrophe.”
After peaceful street demonstrations were crushed by military violence, a growing number of grassroots defense groups have formed to defend themselves against military attacks, sometimes using little more than homemade hunting rifles to protect their neighbors. Some groups have been supported by armed insurgent organizations, which have fought with the army for decades seeking greater autonomy.
The army has deployed heavy weapons, including air strikes, against armed groups and civilians to crush that resistance. More than 108,000 people have fled their homes in Kayah state alone, according to the UN.
“The military leadership is solely responsible for this crisis and must be held accountable,” Bachelet said.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team believes it has little knowledge of what is happening across the country, where key services such as schools and hospitals have been paralyzed by an anti-coup strike. He has been unable to access the Internet, watch television or read anything other than military-controlled media, according to his defense attorney, Khin Maung Zaw.
Before her trial, her attorneys obtained permission to speak with her for just three 30-minute sessions, with the final meeting scheduled for Monday morning. “Time is not enough. He even said: six cases and 30 minutes, that’s five minutes for each case, ”said Khin Maung Zaw.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces a wide range of charges, although it is unclear which ones will be dealt with by the courts first. She is accused of violating coronavirus restrictions during last year’s elections, inciting public unrest, violating a telecommunications law and an import law by possessing walkie-talkies and breaking the official secrets law. On Thursday, more charges were announced in state media, which reported that she was accused of accepting $ 600,000 in cash and 11.4 kg of gold, in bribes and abusing her authority to rent land. This case has not yet been referred to court, according to Khin Maung Zaw.
If she is found guilty of each count and the sentence is handed down consecutively, “she will not be released for life,” she said. “She has a lot of experience, so she is well composed. She doesn’t seem scared or depressed, ”he said. “She seemed as determined as ever.”
David Mathieson, an independent Myanmar analyst, said the charges were clearly an attempt by the army to justify the coup and discredit Aung San Suu Kyi. “It’s really just to send the message that she was a traitor, corrupt, thwarted the elections and did it for financial gain, pretended to be a democratic purist but deep down she was a cheap con artist,” he said. “I don’t think many people are going to believe it, because look who it comes from.”
At least 861 people have been killed by the junta, according to the advocacy group Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (Burma), while nearly 4,800 people have been detained or sentenced by the military since it took control of the country. Protesters, poets, doctors, journalists and social media celebrities are among those arrested. Reports of torture in prisons are widespread.
On Thursday, in a trial held in a makeshift court inside a prison, 32 young activists were sentenced to between two and four years in prison on charges including incitement and illegal assembly, according to local media. A dissident who was released told the independent outlet Myanmar Now that the activists had been tortured during interrogations. Images printed by the news site showed dark red eyelashes covering a man’s back.
Bachelet said she was “deeply concerned by reports of torture of detainees” and expressed concern about the collective punishment of the activists’ relatives. The mother of an activist was sentenced to three years in prison in place of her son on May 28, according to the UN.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial is scheduled to take place in a court within the Naypyidaw council, according to Khin Maung Zaw. “As a practicing lawyer in Myanmar, I have an ethical duty to trust our jurisdiction, our high court and subordinate courts,” he said. But he added that, having worked on the case of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders, he doubted there would be a fair trial.
The plaintiffs are expected to present evidence next week and Aung San Suu Kyi will be questioned during the first week of July. However, previously scheduled hearings have been delayed.