Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi pleads not guilty to inciting violence as junta muzzles lawyers

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Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has pleaded not guilty to public incitement charges, sources involved in the case say, in a hearing where the junta banned its legal team from discussing with the media, fearing that this could “” destabilize the country.

Tuesday marked the first chance for the Nobel Laureate, 76, who was arrested on February 1 when the military overthrew her National League for Democracy (NLD) government in a coup, to defend himself in the special court in the capital Naypyidaw against charges under Article 505 (b) of the Myanmar Penal Code, said a source familiar with the proceedings in the Myanmar service of the FRG, speaking under the guise of ‘anonymity.

Details of the hearing were not immediately clear as the military banned five lawyers for Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team from speaking to the media under article 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Lawyers for former President Win Myint and Naypyidaw Mayor Myo Aung, both co-accused in the case, said earlier this month that they decided to defend themselves against the charges.

Khin Maung Myint, an attorney for the Yangon High Court, told RFA that it was illegal for the military to keep Aung San Suu Kyi’s case hidden from the public.

“A lawyer or anyone else should be able to speak on the progress of the case without a restraining order,” he said.

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“If someone criticizes the quality of the case or speaks disrespectfully to the people involved, the witnesses or the court, then the person can be prosecuted under the Contempt of Court Act. Otherwise, the enactment of Article 144, which deprives citizens of their right to information, is in fact unconstitutional.

The decision to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers from speaking to reporters follows an Oct. 12 hearing in which former President Win Myint told the court that the military forced him to resign. his post on the day of the coup while defending himself against charges. under Section 505 (b).

Following the media disclosure of this hearing by defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, the junta banned four members of Win Myint’s legal team – Khin Maung Zaw, Thair Maung Maung, Kyi Win and Min Min Soe – to speak on the case.

In August, another member of the defense team, San Marlar Nyunt, was forced by authorities in Yangon to sign a pledge not to conduct interviews, contact the media or any foreign organization.

Veteran High Court lawyer Kyee Myint told RFA that banning all lawyers from speaking to the media was illegal and said the ruling amounted to blatant interference with the judiciary.

“The 2008 Constitution explicitly states that the legislative, executive and judicial sectors must act separately,” he said.

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“The court judge, in a response to Aung San Suu Kyi, said that lawyers can talk about the hearings, and therefore the executive’s order can be considered interference.

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told RFA the ban was imposed because the lawyers’ statements “would not contribute to the stability of the country.”

“There have been exaggerations in the statements made in court – some cases seem to have been misrepresented,” he said.

“We have information teams to talk about legal matters, even at the district level, and they will act accordingly when needed. “

“Undemocratic and illegal travel”

However, lawyers and political observers disagreed with the junta’s reasoning.

Political analyst Than Soe Naing called the move “part of a political plot to imprison Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior party leaders.”

“Politically speaking, [the junta is] determined to crush the leadership of the NLD, including Aung San Suu Kyi, ”he said.

“Decisions are made based on this line of thinking. They don’t have the legal right to do this, although they still do. These are very undemocratic and illegal measures which are all politically motivated. “

Than Soe Naing said that injustices committed for political ends will continue as long as the military regime thrives.

Kyaw Thiha, a member of the NLD Central Committee, called the ban a “deliberate decision”.

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“They don’t want Aung San Suu Kyi’s words to be heard here. President [recent] the statements reaching outside have seriously hurt them, ”he said.

“They can’t handle lawyers who honestly convey courageous words [of the leaders] reach the public. They are very afraid that the whole country will become unstable after learning the truth. “

Kyaw Thiha said the country “is heading for total annihilation” if the current situation persists because the military “does whatever it wants with no respect for democratic rights.”

Almost nine months after the February 1 military coup, security forces killed 1,218 civilians and arrested at least 7,026, according to the Bangkok-based Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, mostly during the crackdown anti-junta demonstrations.

The junta said they toppled the NLD government because they claimed the party staged a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 elections through widespread electoral fraud. He has yet to present any evidence for his claims and public unrest is at an all time high.

Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday requested that the court hold hearings on the cases she faces every two weeks instead of a week, citing health concerns, but the judge rejected her request.

Reported by the Myanmar service of RFA. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.