Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi Monday appeared in court for the first time since the military took control of the country Feb. 1, saying she had been cut off from contact from the outside world and didn’t know what happened in the past nearly four months, her lawyers told RFA.
Prior to the start of Monday’s hearing, the deposed state counsellor met for about 30 minutes with defense lawyer Min Min Soe and five other members of the defense team alongside President Win Myint and Naypyidaw Council Chairman Myo Aung.
The 75-year-ol Nobel laureate is one of about 4,000 detained by the junta since the coup, and she faces six charges including illegal possession of walkie-talkies and violating a law on state secrets. If convicted she could face up to 14 years in prison.
“We were taken to a compound in Naypyidaw where we met [Aung San Suu Kyi] in a room. We were told we would have half an hour to explain the instructions for the hearing,” Min Min Soe told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“In the next room was the courtroom used for the hearing… Nobody came into our room; it was just us and the defendants and there were surveillance cameras there. But half an hour was not enough when you consider all the charges against her. She said herself that half an hour was not enough,” she said.
Min Min Soe said that during the meeting Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her concern for the health of the people of Myanmar, and said that her party, the National League for Democracy, was built for the people, so it would continue to exist as long as the people exist.
“She said she and President Win Myint had lost all communication with the outside world since the day of their arrests and they were not totally aware of what has been happening on the outside,” Min Min Soe said.
The leader of the defense team, Khin Maung Zaw, told RFA, “She didn’t even know the exact location of today’s special court hearing or where she was being held. This is what she told us.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial had been conducted since late February by online video, with Monday the first time she appeared in person for a special tribunal set up by the junta-appointed supreme court.
The court also heard the other two defendants’ cases on Monday. They face charges of violating COVID-19 restrictions and causing public unrest.
Min Min Soe noted that Aung San Suu Kyi appeared without a flower in her hair, which has been her iconic look, but she and the others appeared to be in good health.
“They said that with communications cut off with the outside, they don’t know anything about what has been going on, and all they do is eat and sleep most of the time,” she said.
They are scheduled to appear in court again on June 7.
Violence in Kayah state
An artillery shell fired by junta security forces killed four civilians and injured eight others who were taking shelter in a church in the country’s eastern Kayah state, which borders northwestern Thailand.
A resident of Kayantharyar village outside Loikaw, the state capital, said women and children were inside the church, which was flying a white flag to denote a safe zone after intense fighting the previous day.
“Some were taking shelter in churches and the military was deliberately firing at places where refugees were hiding,” said the resident, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“They knew people were hiding in the church and they fired on it with heavy weapons. One of the shells hit the church and four people inside were killed. Others were wounded and the building was damaged quite badly,” he said.
The resident said he did not have accurate details about the number of casualties in the town because of the large troop presence on the streets Monday morning.
To the north in Shan state, meanwhile, junta troops on Monday occupied a police station in the town of Moebye that had been targeted by a local militia Sunday morning.
The militia killed 14 policemen and took four others prisoner, local residents said. In reports about the attack, the junta did not reveal how many were killed.
Following Sunday’s fighting, thousands of residents fled to nearby mountains, leaving Moebye virtually empty on Monday.
Local militia in Kayah state’s Demwawso township fought with the military near that town’s police station on Saturday, and four militia members were injured, while the military’s artillery destroyed several buildings, including homes in Dawt Ngan Kha village.
“They haven’t yet come into the village. They were just shelling from afar. There was a clash near the police station with some of their ground troops. They will surely come into the village, and we are expecting them,” a resident of Dawt Ngan Kha said.
An estimated hundreds of thousands of people in Kayah and southern Shan states have gone into hiding in the jungle. An aid worker said an exact number was not possible to determine, and it was difficult to send people to safer places because of transportation and safety issues.
Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said that as of Monday, at least 824 people have been killed by the junta, and 4301 are in detention.
Also Monday, authorities detained a U.S. citizen editor of a Myanmar-based news outlet in Yangon as he tried to board an international flight.
Frontier Myanmar Editor Danny Fenster, 37, was taken in at Yangon International Airport as he was preparing to journey to meet his family. The outlet confirmed the arrest on its Twitter account.
"We do not know why Danny was detained and have not been able to contact him since this morning. We are concerned for his wellbeing and call for his immediate release," the news outlet said.
"Our priorities right now are to make sure he is safe and to provide him with whatever assistance he needs."
Contacted in Washington, a U.S State Department spokesperson confirmed it had received reports of the journalist’s detention.
“We are aware of reports of a U.S. citizen detained in Burma. We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad, and are monitoring the situation,” the spokesperson said.
Frontier Myanmar told AFP that it believed Fenster was taken to Yangon’s Insein prison, the same facility where Japanese reporter Yuki Kitazumi had been detained after his arrest last month.
Upon Kitazumi’s return to Tokyo last week, he reported that other prisoners told him they were tortured and beaten and deprived of sleep.
According to the Reporting ASEAN monitoring group, at least 34 journalists and photographers remain in detention in Myanmar.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.