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No defence witnesses at Suu Kyi incitement trial: lawyer

October 5, 2021

Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not call any defence witnesses at her incitement trial in a junta court, her lawyer said Tuesday, as the military hit a detained US journalist with another criminal charge.

Suu Kyi went on trial in June, four months after she was taken into custody in a coup that sparked huge democracy protests.

The 76-year-old faces a raft of charges, from sedition to illegally importing walkie-talkies, which could see her jailed for decades.

Suu Kyi and former president Win Myint “would show no witness” in their defence, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said after the latest hearing in their trial for incitement.

Suu Kyi was scheduled to testify in the trial on October 26, he added.

Under house arrest since the coup, the Nobel laureate’s only link to the outside world has been through pre-hearing meetings with her lawyers.

The junta has threatened to dissolve her National League for Democracy party and continues to wage a bloody campaign against opponents to its rule.

Richard Horsey of the International Crisis group said Suu Kyi “must have been concerned for the safety of anyone she would call as a defence witness.”

– US journalist charged –

In a separate junta trial, an American journalist imprisoned since May has been hit with a second criminal charge, his lawyer told AFP.

Danny Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon International Airport as he attempted to leave the country.

He is currently on trial for allegedly encouraging dissent against the military, which carries a maximum three-year jail sentence.

During the latest hearing at Insein prison in Yangon on Monday, he was hit with another charge of unlawful association, his lawyer Than Zaw Aung said.

Conviction under the colonial-era law also carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

It has previously been used to target journalists contacting Myanmar’s myriad ethnic armed groups fighting the state for increased autonomy and control over natural resources.

Charging Fenster while in pre-trial detention “shows… what little faith we should have that these charges are genuine,” said Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The second trial is expected to start on October 15, Than Zaw Aung said.

His client was “in good health, but he lost weight a little bit”, he added.

Fenster, 37, had been working for Frontier for around a year and was heading home to see his family when he was detained on May 24.

He is believed to have contracted Covid-19 during his detention, family members said during a conference call with American journalists in August.

More than 1,100 people have been killed and over 8,700 arrested since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.

The press has been squeezed as the junta tries to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling internet access and revoking the licences of local media outlets.

More than 100 journalists have been arrested since the putsch, according to Reporting ASEAN, a monitoring group.

It says 48 are still in detention.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.