Junta trial of Myanmar's Suu Kyi to hear first testimony


In this file photo taken on March 13, 2021, a protester holds a poster with an image of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a candlelight vigil. Suu Kyi will hear its first testimony in a junta court Monday (June 14), more than four months after a military coup. - AFP

YANGON (AFP): The trial of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will hear its first testimony in a junta court Monday (June 14), more than four months after a military coup.

Near daily protests have rocked Myanmar since the generals' putsch removed her government in February, ending a 10-year experiment with democracy.

The mass uprising has been met with a brutal military crackdown that has killed more than 850 people, according to a local monitoring group.

The junta has brought an eclectic raft of charges against the Nobel laureate, from illegally accepting 11 kilograms of gold to breaking a colonial-era secrecy law.

On Monday, her defence team will cross-examine witnesses over charges she improperly imported walkie-talkies and flouted coronavirus restrictions during last year's elections that her National League for Democracy won in a landslide.

Her lawyers -- who have been allowed to meet with her just twice since she was placed under house arrest -- have said they expect the trial to wrap up by July 26.

Hearings for the case will take place every Monday.

If convicted of all charges, Suu Kyi, 75, faces more than a decade in jail.

"We are hoping for the best but prepared for the worst," Khin Maung Zaw, one of Suu Kyi's lawyers, told AFP ahead of the hearing in the capital Naypyidaw.

A separate case is scheduled to start on June 15, where she is charged with sedition alongside ousted president Win Myint and another senior member of the NLD.

Suu Kyi spent more than 15 years under house arrest during the previous junta's rule before her 2010 release.

Her international stature diminished following a wave of military violence targeting Buddhist-majority Myanmar's marginalised Muslim Rohingya community, but the coup has returned Suu Kyi to the role of cloistered democracy icon.

On Thursday, she was hit with additional corruption charges of illegally accepting $600, 000 in cash and around 11 kilos of gold.

Her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw dismissed the new charges -- which could see Suu Kyi hit with another lengthy prison term -- as "absurd".

"There is an undeniable political background to keep her out of the scene of the country and to smear her prestige," he told AFP last week.

"That's one of the reasons to charge her -- to keep her out of the scene."

Myanmar has plunged into a "human rights catastrophe" since the coup, the UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Friday, adding that the military leadership was "singularly responsible" for the crisis.

Bachelet also slammed the sweeping arrests in the country of activists, journalists and opponents of the regime, citing credible sources saying at least 4, 804 people remain in arbitrary detention.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has justified his power grab by citing alleged electoral fraud in the November poll won by Suu Kyi's NLD.

The junta has previously said it would hold fresh elections within two years, but has also threatened to dissolve the NLD.

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