Myanmar’s Suu Kyi pleads not guilty to breaking virus rules

BANGKOK — Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint pleaded not guilty Monday to violating COVID-19 restrictions, their lawyers said, as the pair were formally indicted after the army seized power.

Each was charged with two counts under the Disaster Management Act for failing to observe pandemic restrictions during last year’s general election campaign. Each charge carries a maximum of three years imprisonment.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won last November’s election in a landslide, but was unable to take a second five-year term in office when the military seized power on Feb. 1. Suu Kyi, along with leading members of her party and government are still under arrest.

The military said it acted because of widespread voter fraud, an assertion for which it has presented little proof. Massive popular opposition was met to the takeover, and it continues despite severe repressive actions by security forces.

The special court in the capital Naypyitaw is also trying Suu Kyi for illegally importing walkie-talkies and unlicensed use of the radios, as well as incitement — spreading false or inflammatory information that could disturb public order. Win Myint, Suu Kyi and Myo Aung (ex-mayor of Naypyitaw) pleaded guilty last month to incitement. They are likely to face indictment next week regarding the radios.

An indictment allows a trial to proceed to a second stage, after the court hears the prosecution’s case and determines that it has merit. After the court hears the prosecution’s case, it will allow the defense to present its case.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the charges are an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power.

Suu Kyi also faces corruption charges in a separate trial recently begun, an offense that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. She is set to be tried soon for violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum term of 14 years.

The judge at Monday’s court session rejected a request from 76-year-old Suu Kyi to hold its hearings every two weeks instead of weekly. Suu Kyi stated that it would lessen the stress on her health due to so many court appearances.

“She is getting tired of weekly appointments. Lawyers also get tired. It is suggested that you do this once per week. Lawyer Kyi Win stated that the judge refused to allow this.

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