Myanmar police file charges against Aung San Suu Kyi after coup

·4-min read
Myanmar's police officers stand guard at the entrance of parliament members residence at the congress compound in Naypyitaw

(Reuters) - Myanmar police have filed charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi for illegally importing communications equipment and she will be detained until Feb. 15 for investigations, according to a police document.

The move followed a military coup on Monday and the detention of Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi and other civilian politicians. The takeover cut short Myanmar's long transition to democracy and drew condemnation from the United States and other Western countries.

A police request to a court detailing the accusations against Suu Kyi, 75, said six walkie-talkie radios had been found in a search of her home in the capital Naypyidaw. The radios were imported illegally and used without permission, it said.

The document reviewed on Wednesday requested Suu Kyi's detention "in order to question witnesses, request evidence and seek legal counsel after questioning the defendant".

A separate document showed police filed charges against ousted President Win Myint for violating protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus during campaigning for an election last November.

The charges against Suu Kyi "just compound the undermining of the rule of law in Myanmar and the democratic process," United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Wednesday.

"We continue to call for her immediate release and the president's immediate release and all others who have been detained by the military in the last few days," he said.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won November's election in a landslide but the military, headed by Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing, claimed the vote was marred by fraud and justified its seizure of power on those grounds. The electoral commission had said the vote was fair.

The chair of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Charles Santiago, said the new charges were ludicrous.

"This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimize their illegal power grab," he said in a statement.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach the police, the government or the court for comment.

Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led the country's democracy movement, and she remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees in 2017.

The NLD made no immediate comment. A party official said on Tuesday he had learned she was under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, and was in good health.

The party said its offices had been raided in several regions and it urged authorities to stop what it called unlawful acts after its election victory.

OPPOSITION EMERGES

Opposition to the junta has begun to emerge in Myanmar.

Staff at government hospitals across the country of 54 million people stopped work or wore red ribbons as part of a civil disobedience campaign.

The newly formed Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement said doctors at 70 hospitals and medical departments in 30 towns had joined the protest. It accused the army of putting its interests above a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3,100 people, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.

"The first vaccines arrived in Myanmar only last week and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic must remain a priority for the foreseeable future," the U.N.'s Dujarric said.

"We really cannot accept this," said 49-year-old Myo Myo Mon, who was among the doctors who stopped work to protest.

The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hold fair elections, but has not said when.

G7 CONDEMNS COUP

The Group of Seven largest developed economies condemned the coup on Wednesday and said the election result must be respected.

"We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law," the G7 said in a statement.

China has not specifically condemned the coup in its neighbour but the foreign ministry rejected the suggestion that it supported or gave tacit consent to it.

"We wish that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately resolve their differences and uphold political and social stability," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing.

On Tuesday, the United Nations special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, urged the Security Council to "collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar".

But a diplomat with China's U.N. mission said it would be difficult to reach consensus on the draft statement and that any action should avoid escalating tension or complicating the situation.

U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to reimpose sanctions on the generals who seized power.

The military had ruled the former British colony from 1962 until Suu Kyi's party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Stephen Coates and Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)