Myanmar’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been remanded in custody until Wednesday, not Monday as previously thought, her lawyer told media, as protesters began gathering again to demand her release and an end to military rule.
Security forces in Myanmar deployed armoured vehicles in major cities two weeks after the military overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and detained her on charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios.
Her detention was due to expire on Monday but her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told media a judge at a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, had said she was remanded until February 17, 2021. “Whether it is fair or not, you can decide yourself,” Khin Maung Zaw said. A member of the lawyer’s team said the judge had spoken to Suu Kyi via video conferencing and she had asked if she could hire a lawyer.
The February 1, 2021 coup and the arrest of Suu Kyi and others have sparked the biggest protests in Myanmar in more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the country for ten days to denounce the coup, which derailed the Southeast Asian country’s tentative transition to democracy, and to call for Suu Kyi’s release.
The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule, which ended when the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011. Violence this time has been limited but on Sunday, police opened fire to disperse protesters at a power plant in northern Myanmar although it was unclear if they were using rubber bullets or live rounds and there was no word on casualties.
As well as the demonstrations around the country, the military is facing a strike by government workers, part of a civil disobedience movement that is crippling many functions of government.
More than a dozen police trucks with four water cannon vehicles were deployed on Monday near the Sule Pagoda in central Yangon, which has been one of the main demonstration sites in the commercial capital, as groups of protesters began gathering peacefully outside the central bank and the Chinese embassy. At the bank, several hundred protesters held up signs calling for colleagues to join the CDM – the civil disobedience movement – and stating their refusal to accept the coup. An armoured vehicle and about six trucks carrying soldiers were parked nearby, a witness said.
Domestic media showed protesters gathering in the capital, Naypyitaw, many carrying pictures of Suu Kyi with the message: “we want our leader”.
Suu Kyi, 75, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.
The government and army could not be reached for comment.
Shortly after midnight, residents reported an internet outage until about 9 am, when connections were restored. In the early days after the coup, the internet was cut across the country.
The army has been carrying out nightly arrests and on Saturday gave itself sweeping powers to detain people and search private property. On Sunday, it published penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent.
“It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people,” UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews said on Twitter. “Late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another Internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable.”
Western embassies – from the European Union, Britain, Canada and 11 other nations – issued a statement late on Sunday calling on security forces to “refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government”.
The amendments to the penal code set out a 20-year prison term for inciting hatred of the government or military or hindering the security forces engaged in preserving state stability. Hindering the security forces carrying out their duties is punishable by seven years in prison while spreading fear, fake news or agitating against government employees gets three years, according to the amendments posted on a military website.
In the latest sign of disruption by workers, the Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement many staff had stopped coming to work since February 8, 2021, causing flight delays. Some trains have also stopped running, media reported. The junta has ordered civil servants back to work, threatening action.
At least 400 people have been detained since the coup, the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.
Suu Kyi’s party won a 2015 election and another on November 8, 2020, but the military said the vote was marred by fraud and used that complaint to justify their coup. The electoral commission dismissed accusations of fraud.