Police have levelled their first formal charge against Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, members of her party said on Wednesday, giving military authorities who staged a coup a legal reason to detain her at least until the middle of the month.
The charge — that Ms Suu Kyi was in possession of illegally imported walkie talkies — came to light two days after she was placed under house arrest and appeared to be an effort to lend a legal veneer to her detention, though the generals have previously kept her and others locked up for years.
At the same time authorities were working to keep Ms Suu Kyi in detention, hundreds of politicians who had been forced to stay at government housing after the coup were told on Wednesday to leave the capital city within 24 hours and go home, a member of parliament from Ms Suu Kyi’s party said.
Top generals announced on Monday that they would take power for one year, accusing Ms Suu Kyi’s government of not investigating the military’s allegations of voter fraud in recent elections.
Ms Suu Kyi’s party swept that vote, and the military-backed party did poorly.
National League for Democracy (NDL) spokesman Kyi Toe confirmed the charge against Ms Suu Kyi that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
He also said the country’s ousted president, Win Myint, was charged with violating the natural disaster management law.
A leaked charge sheet dated February 1 indicates they can be held until February 15.
Police and court officials in the capital Naypyitaw could not immediately be contacted.
The coup was a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which had been making progress towards democracy, and highlighted the extent to which the generals have ultimately maintained control in the Southeast Asian country.
The military announced on Monday that they would hold power under a state of emergency for a year, and then hand power to the winner of elections.
In response, Ms Suu Kyi’s party has called for non-violent resistance, and scores of people in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, honked car horns and banged on pots and pans on Tuesday night in a protest.
Supporters of the military have also staged demonstrations.
Medical workers have also declared they will not work for the new military government in protest at the coup at a time when the country is battling a steady rise in Covid-19 cases with a dangerously inadequate health system.
Photos were shared on social media showing health workers with red ribbons pinned to their clothes or holding printed photos of red ribbons.
At a protest in Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand on Wednesday against the coup, Khin Maung Soo, a Myanmar national, said he was demonstrating to “show the world that we are not happy with what happened”.
He added: “We want the world to know, and we want the whole world to help us too.”
The takeover marked a shocking fall from power for Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country towards democracy and then became its de facto leader after her party won elections in 2015.
Ms Suu Kyi had been a fierce critic of the army during her years in detention. But after her shift from democracy icon to politician, she worked with the generals and even defended their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, damaging her international reputation.
The international community, which had enthusiastically supported Myanmar’s nascent democracy, now faces a test.
The United States has threatened sanctions and has labelled the takeover a coup.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday but took no action.
The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations on Wednesday issued a statement calling for Ms Suu Kyi and others to be released and for power to be restored to the democratically elected government.
While in power, Myanmar’s new leader said the military government planned to investigate alleged fraud in last year’s elections.
Senior general Min Aung Hlaing announced the moves on Tuesday at the first meeting of his new government in the capital, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
While the military has cited the government’s failure to properly investigate allegations of electoral irregularities as one of the reasons for the coup, the state Union Election Commission has said there were no significant problems with the vote.
Analysts have said the landslide victory of Ms Suu Kyi’s party may have caught the military by surprise — and made the generals concerned that it had too much power, even though the constitution had been carefully written to ensure the military maintained significant control, including with an allocation of 25% of the seats in parliament.