Deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi voiced defiance on Monday as she made her first court appearance since the military detained her in a coup, vowing her political party would live on.
Myanmar has been in uproar since the February 1 putsch, with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
The military has killed more than 800 civilians in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta has threatened to dissolve Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party — which swept elections in 2020 — over alleged voter fraud.
The Nobel laureate — who has not been seen in public since the coup — sounded “healthy and fully confident” during the 30-minute meeting, her lawyer Min Min Soe told AFP.
“She wishes her people to stay healthy as well as affirmed the NLD will exist as long as people exist because it was founded for people.”
State media released images of Suu Kyi, the first since she was detained, sitting with senior NLD figure Myo Aung and former president Win Myint during the hearing.
She has been hit with a string of criminal charges including flouting coronavirus restrictions during last year’s election campaign and possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies.
There was a heavy security presence in the capital Naypyidaw, an AFP correspondent said, with the road to the specially constructed courthouse blocked by police trucks.
There have been weeks of delays to Suu Kyi’s legal case and her lawyers have struggled to gain access to her.
The next hearing was set for June 7, Min Min Soe said, adding she had also met Win Myint, who was ousted and detained along with Suu Kyi.
“It’s hard to say why this meeting was now allowed,” Richard Horsey, senior advisor on Myanmar to the International Crisis Group, told AFP.
“But (it) certainly suggests that the regime is feeling more confident — despite the magnitude of the ongoing crisis and resistance.”
As the lawyers left the compound in Naypyidaw, police arrested a legal representative of Myo Aung, lawyers told AFP.
– ‘Everything she can’ –
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing gave a two-hour interview to Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television last week, with the full programme yet to air, though portions have been released.
Asked about Suu Kyi’s political achievements, the military leader said: “In short, she has done everything she can.”
The military announced a one-year state of emergency after it seized power, saying that would be followed by fresh multi-party elections.
A group of ousted lawmakers — many of them previously part of the NLD — have formed a shadow “National Unity Government” in an attempt to undermine the junta.
The junta has classified them as “terrorists”.
In a separate interview excerpt, Min Aung Hlaing disputed the death toll from the protests and said he was not ready to adopt a consensus brokered last month by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to halt the violence.
The continuing bloodshed has pushed some in the anti-junta movement to form a so-called “People’s Defence Force” (PDF) in their townships — made up of civilians who fight back against security forces with homemade weapons.
On Monday, junta forces used artillery during fighting with the Karenni People’s Defence Force on Myanmar’s eastern fringe, with four people killed according to a spokesperson for a local group coordinating evacuations from the area.