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Myanmar court postpones verdicts in second case against Suu Kyi

BANGKOK — A court in military-ruled Myanmar postponed its verdicts Monday on two charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in which she is accused of importing and possessing walkie-talkies without following official procedures, a legal official familiar with the case said.

The case in the court in the capital, Naypyitaw, is among many brought against the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate since the army seized power on Feb. 1, ousting her elected government and arresting top members of her National League for Democracy party.

The court gave no reason for delaying the verdicts until Jan. 10, according to the legal official, who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities, who have restricted the release of information about Suu Kyi's trials.

Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in last year's general election, but the military said there was widespread electoral fraud, an assertion that independent poll watchers doubt.

Suu Kyi's supporters and independent analysts say all the charges against her are politically motivated and an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military's seizure of power while keeping her from returning to politics. If found guilty of all the charges she faces, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Suu Kyi was convicted on Dec. 6 on two other charges — incitement and breaching COVID-19 restrictions — and sentenced to four years' imprisonment. Hours after the sentence was issued, the head of the military-installed government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, reduced it by half. She is being held by the military at an unknown location and state television reported that she would serve her sentence there.

Suu Kyi has been attending court hearings in prison clothes — a white top and a brown longyi skirt provided by the authorities. The hearings are closed to the media and spectators and the prosecutors do not comment. Her lawyers, who had been a source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October.

A charge under the Export-Import Law of having improperly imported the walkies-talkies was the first filed against Suu Kyi and served as the initial justification for her continued detention. A second charge of illegally possessing the radios was filed the following month.

The radios were seized from the gate of her residence and the barracks of her bodyguards during a search on Feb. 1, the day she was arrested.

Suu Kyi's lawyers argued that the radios were not in her personal possession and were legitimately used to help provide for her security, but the court declined to dismiss the charges.

The court on Monday also heard video testimony from the vice chairman of Suu Kyi's party, Zaw Myint Maung, in another case against her involving alleged violation of COVID-19 restrictions during last year's election campaign, the legal official said.

Zaw Myint Maung, who had been unable to appear in court earlier for health reasons, testified that people had gathered to see her when she visited Shwe Kyar Pin Ward during the campaign because they respect her, and it wasn't a violation of virus restrictions, the official said.

The offense falls under the Natural Disaster Management Law and the maximum penalty is three years in prison and a fine.

She is also being tried in the same court on five counts of corruption. The maximum penalty for each count is 15 years in prison and a fine. A sixth corruption charge, in which Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint are accused of granting permits to rent and buy a helicopter, has not yet gone to trial.

In separate proceedings, she is accused of violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum term of 14 years.

Additional charges were also added by Myanmar's election commission against Suu Kyi and 15 other politicians in November for alleged fraud in last year's election. The charges by the military-controlled Union Election Commission could result in Suu Kyi's party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover.

The military's seizure of power was met by nonviolent nationwide demonstrations, which security forces quashed with deadly force, killing nearly 1,400 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Peaceful protests have continued, but amid the severe crackdown, an armed resistance has also grown, to the point that U.N. experts have warned the country could be sliding into civil war.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.