BANGKOK (AP) — 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 count carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.
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 and leading members of her government and party remain under arrest.
The military said it acted because of widespread voter fraud, an assertion for which it has presented little proof. The takeover met with massive popular resistance, which is continuing despite deadly repressive measures 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. Suu Kyi, Win Myint and the former mayor of Naypyitaw, Myo Aung, late last month pleaded not guilty to incitement, and are expected to be indicted next week in connection with 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. The defense then can 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 said it would reduce the strain on her health from so many scheduled court appearances.
“She is getting tired of weekly appointments. Lawyers are tired too. That’s why it is recommended to do it once every two weeks. But the judge did not allow it,” said lawyer Kyi Win said.