Myanmar coup latest: Aung San Suu Kyi faces charges, Facebook ban enforced, protests emerge

yorkfoto/iStockBy KARSON YIU, ABC News

(HONG KONG) — Days after Myanmar’s army ousted her in a brazen textbook coup, the police charged Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in violation of an obscure import-export law that could send the 75-year-old Nobel laureate to prison for three years.

If convicted it would effectively bar her from standing in the general election the military promised would take place in a year’s time.

In police charging documents leaked online, it reveals that Suu Kyi was being charged with illegally importing at least 10 walkie-talkies without the proper paperwork after a search of her official residence in the capital of Naypyidaw. The court ordered her remanded until her court date in mid-February.

Though the new junta has yet to confirm her detention, an official from her National League for Democracy party (NLD), said that Suu Kyi and her fellow party member U Win Myint who served as president before the coup, are still being held at their residences while many of the other elected officials who had been rounded up on Monday have been allowed to return home.

Win Myint has been separately accused of violating the country’s emergency COVID-19 regulations when he glad-handed supporters while campaigning ahead of last year’s general elections. If he’s convicted, he would not be allowed to serve as president again in the future because of a criminal record.

Meanwhile, international condemnation continues to grow across the globe.

During a press briefing Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that United States is “disturbed” by the charges against Suu Kyi and called for all those detained in the coup to be immediately released.

In an interview with the Washington Post, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “We will do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails.”

In an effort to get ahead of organized dissent, Myanmar’s Ministry of Communications and Information blocked internet service providers in the early morning hours Thursday from accessing Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp until at least Sunday.

In an online letter, the ministry reasoned that “currently the people who are troubling the country’s stability … are spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook.”

For many in the Southeast Asian nation, Facebook is their one and only internet experience and since Monday’s coup, citizens have been criticizing the coup on social media and organizing civil disobedience campaigns including a growing health care worker strike.

On Thursday morning, the official Facebook group of the Civil Disobedience Movement said that staff in over 100 hospitals across 70 townships around the country have pledged to stop working in protest of the new junta government and, in a statement earlier this week, the movement said the army had “put its own interests above a vulnerable population facing hardships during the pandemic.”

Health care workers in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon are seen in circulated videos singing in support of Suu Kyi and raising their hands in the three-finger salute from the Hunger Games films that has been adopted by protest movements in the region, most notably in neighboring Thailand, to voice opposition to a junta government.

Though muted, initial signs of street protests have also appeared on Thursday as a handful of protesters gathered outside Mandalay Medical University waving banners and chanting slogans in the old royal capital of Myanmar.

Videos from the scene shows a protestor shouting “Our arrested leaders, release now!” as fellow protesters hold up banners reading “People’s Protest Against Military Coup!”

The newly installed junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, defended the coup as necessary on State TV Tuesday saying the military needed to act because a new government was on the verge of being formed while the military’s claims of irregularities in more than 10 million votes have not been investigated.

The military has also provided no proof of fraud.

Nikkei Asia reported that Min Aung Hlaing’s working relationship with Suu Kyi began to fray soon after he was sanctioned by the U.S. and U.K. over his role in orchestrating the violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Though Suu Kyi defended the army’s actions on the international stage, an unnamed high-ranking Myanmar official told Nikkei Asia that the two leaders stopped having regular meetings around 2018.

Min Aung Hlaing was slated to retire from the army in the summer and was said to be looking for a path to maintain a leadership position in the pro-military party USDP when he entered civilian life. Suu Kyi’s party, however, throttled the USPD in the November elections, winning over 80% of the seats in parliament and further narrowed the pathway for the military to hold on to political power.

Min Aung Hlaing and his military allies raised fraud claims almost immediately and had urged Suu Kyi to open an investigation. She continued to refuse up until his coup ousted her from power.

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