THE country’s ousted president described that a deal to vacate his seat and save himself in the early moments of the February coup snuffed out his country’s shortlived democratic experiment, his lawyer said.
Win Myint (pic), who was detained along with civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, made the comments as he testified for the first time at his trial for incitement in a junta court.
Incitement, defined as spreading false or inflammatory information that could disturb public order, is sometimes referred to as sedition and punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
The trial held at a special court in Naypyidaw, whose former mayor, Myo Aung, is the third defendant. Suu Kyi and the ex-mayor are slated to testify later.
The 69-year-old recounted how two senior army officers entered his room in the early hours of Feb 1 “and urged him to resign from his post of the presidency, giving the reason of ill health”, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.
“The president turned down their proposal, saying he was in good health. The officers warned him the denial would cause him much harm but the president told them he would rather die than consent,” he added.
Similar dawn raids took place across the capital Naypyidaw, taking key civilian leaders into custody and ending the army’s brief flirtation with democracy.
Win Myint – a longtime ally of Suu Kyi – faces a raft of charges, including incitement and sedition.
The junta – officially known as the State Administration Council – has threatened to dissolve Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party and continues to wage a bloody campaign against opponents.
Win Myint and Suu Kyi will call no defence witnesses in their incitement trial, their lawyers said.
Suu Kyi is scheduled to testify for the first time later this month.
Her supporters and independent analysts say the charges against her are an attempt to discredit her and legitimise the military’s seizure of power.
The trial is held in closed session with neither press nor public allowed. Win Myint’s testimony as related by lawyer Khin Maung Zaw is the first time his version of events has been made known.
The military has insisted its takeover was legal.
When Win Myint refused to step down, he was replaced by Vice-President Myint Swe, an army ally, who declared a state of emergency, allowing the military to take power.
The appointment of Myint Swe as acting president was made on the basis of Win Myint being arrested, an action that some legal scholars say was unlawful.
At stake in the incitement case are statements posted on a Facebook page of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, after she, Win Myint and other party leaders had already been detained.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the putsch with huge protests, renewed clashes between the military and ethnic rebel armies in border regions, and an economy spiralling into freefall.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has justified his power grab by citing alleged electoral fraud in the November poll won by the NLD.
The military has cracked down brutally on dissent -- shooting protesters, arresting suspected dissidents in night raids, shutting down news outlets and rounding up journalists.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed, according to a local monitoring group.
Win Myint testified on Tuesday that the accusations against him were groundless as he had been held incommunicado, so the alleged statements were made without his knowledge even though his name appeared on them. — Agencies