Myanmar’s imprisoned leader Suu Kyi urges followers to support youth in resistance movement

Myanmar’s imprisoned civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged officials and members of her party to “collaborate constructively” with young people working in the anti-junta resistance movement, said an ousted lawmaker who met her at court hearings in Naypyitaw.

Maung Maung Swe, a 52-year-old Upper House parliamentarian from the National League for Democracy (NLD), spent 18 months in the Naypyitaw Detention Centre, where State Counsellor Suu Kyi is currently being held. The Myanmar military arrested him in late March 2021, nearly two months after the coup that overthrew the NLD administration led by Suu Kyi, for inciting government employees to leave their jobs and join the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in the wake of the army takeover.

A regime court in the military capital of Naypyitaw sentenced Maung Maung Swe to two years in prison under Section 505a of the Penal Code. He was freed in a mass amnesty on November 17 last year. He spoke with Myanmar Now in early February, sharing accounts of his time incarcerated in the detention centre, including encounters with his party chair Suu Kyi, as well as ousted President Win Myint, at court hearings.

Ousted lawmaker Maung Maung Swe wearing the traditional shirt and pins that comprise the ‘NLD uniform’ (Supplied)

Lawyers representing Suu Kyi called Maung Maung Swe as a defence witness in cases concerning the activities of her charity foundation and allegations of election fraud, for which she was sentenced three years each in August and September last year. Maung Maung Swe said he met Suu Kyi three times and Win Myint once in 2022 while testifying on their behalf. 

As people nationwide are resisting the junta, including by taking up arms, the State Counsellor reportedly told Maung Maung Swe that she applauded and had respect for Myanmar’s youth, who make up the majority of the anti-dictatorship movement. 

“She praised all the young people involved in the revolution and urged us to cooperate with and help them… She told us to collaborate with them constructively,” Maung Maung Swe said.

“She said that everyone in the party must work together with those young people and not do anything that is detrimental to their efforts.”

Suu Kyi, 77, has been in regime custody since the coup, and has been convicted on 19 criminal counts—12 of which were based on accusations of corruption during her time in office. She is facing a total of 33 years behind bars.

Seventy-one-year-old Win Myint was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being convicted in a junta-controlled court of eight charges, five of which were related to alleged corruption, finalised in late December last year. 

Maung Maung Swe also met the ousted President at a hearing for the electoral fraud charge filed by the regime. Win Myint reportedly told the lawmaker that he was proud of refusing to hand over the power of the state to the military when he was threatened at gunpoint by the generals.

“He said, ‘What we, you, and our party are doing is temporarily administering the state’s power that the people entrusted us with. Nobody can rob the state of the power that allows us to govern on behalf of the people,’” Maung Maung Swe told Myanmar Now, quoting the President.

“He said proudly that it cannot be given to someone else, even if they ask for it at gunpoint.”

The junta authorities have since moved Win Myint to a prison in Taungoo, Bago Region, in a transfer that took place in mid-January but which has not been officially acknowledged by the regime authorities. The town is located around 60 miles south of Naypyitaw, the country’s administrative capital, where he was believed to have been kept under house arrest since the coup more than two years ago.

Pro-democracy analysts and observers have dismissed the military’s cases against Suu Kyi and Win Myint as being founded on fabricated accusations. 

As the junta has gagged the lawyers of the detained leaders in an attempt to restrict information from being shared about their court cases, Myanmar Now is unable to independently verify Maung Maung Swe’s accounts of the interactions.

However, this is not the first time Suu Kyi has addressed her supporters or the public since her arrest. In April last year, Suu Kyi delivered a message to the public through her legal team during a hearing in Naypyitaw, according to a source close to the court. She urged the people “to stay united,” said the source. She gave the rare statement to her lawyers during a session in a junta court specially designated to review charges brought against her by the military.

The source told Myanmar Now at that time that she urged the public “to stay united and hold discussions on different views. If they still aren’t able to open dialogues now, she said to wait patiently until it is possible to do so.”

Suu Kyi wanted people with different or contrasting opinions to get along with one another and believed “negotiations would be necessary in order to come to a common solution amongst the people,” the source explained.

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