Myanmar’s Former Civilian Leader Facing Additional Criminal Charges After February Military Coup

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former civilian leader and a championed icon of democracy, faces four criminal charges filed in Mandalay, the nation’s second-largest city, on 12 July. These additional charges add to numerous claims brought against the controversial political leader after a military coup removed her National League for Democracy (NLD) party from power in February. 

According to Reuters, Suu Kyi and her legal team have little information regarding the actual criminal charges. However, it has been released that she is facing new corruption charges on top of those filed in June of 2021. These latest criminal charges serve to further entrench Suu Kyi in a decades-long rift with the Burmese military. Her rise to power and international recognition as a fierce advocate for human rights began in 1988, as Myanmar (formerly Burma) faced civil and political upheaval and tumult.

Suu Kyi rallied and led students, office workers, and monks in several protests for democratic reform. She later led the revolt against the former dictator, General Ne Win. These demonstrations and marches were met with bitter suppression by the country’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, which seized power in a military coup in September 1988. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989. Myanmar’s military government called for national elections in 1990, which Suu Kyi’s party won by a large margin, but the military council refused to transfer control, citing issues with election fraud. 

During her 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010, Suu Kyi became a global icon of peaceful resistance and human rights advocacy. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015, Suu Kyi and her NLD party won Myanmar’s “first openly contested election in 25 years but was deposed by a coup in 2021 when the military took control and arrested her and the political leadership around her,” according to BBC News. Following this military coup, Suu Kyi was charged in the capital, Naypyitaw, with “illegally importing communications equipment” as police claimed to have found walkie-talkies in her home which she lacked the authorization to possess.

Many countries, including the United States, condemned the military coup. United States President Joe Biden issued an executive order that prevents Myanmar’s military council from accessing $1 billion in assets in the U.S. “The military must relinquish the power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma as expressed in their November 8th election,” said Biden in a press release statement from the White House on 10 February. 

These new charges could find Suu Kyi involved in legal proceedings in three different cities in Myanmar, as she was also charged in a Yangon court and accused of unspecified breaches of the Official Secrets Act, according to Reuters. Suu Kyi’s legal team has firmly rejected all charges brought against her. Cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses this week have found that the raid on Suu Kyi’s home which resulted in her arrest for possessing walkie-talkies had been conducted illegally without a warrant. 

The Tatmadaw’s actions in oppressing its citizens have proven the politically nefarious nature of the military government in Myanmar. Accordingly, the criminal charges and legal proceedings brought against Suu Kyi must be examined for juridical malfeasance. The international community must condemn false and fabricated charges raised to remove a democratic leader from power. Suu Kyi is not without fault, and her defense at the United Nations International Court of Justice in 2019 of Myanmar against accusations of genocide against the Muslim Rohingya minority group stands as an egregious obstruction of justice for the victims of the brutal campaign of violence waged by the military in 2017, resulting in an exodus of 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh.