Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with another charge, after the military imposed a second straight overnight internet shutdown in an attempt to grind down an anti-coup uprising.
Police in Myanmar have filed a new charge against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said, which may allow her to be held indefinitely without trial.
Lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in the capital, Naypyitaw, that Suu Kyi has been charged with violating Article 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law, which has been used to prosecute people who have broken coronavirus restrictions.
Suu Kyi, who was ousted in a military coup on February 1, has already been charged with possessing six walkie-talkie sets that were allegedly imported without being registered.
The maximum punishment for the Covid-19 violation is three years’ imprisonment.
However, the new charge may allow her to be held indefinitely without trial because a change in the Penal Code instituted by the junta last week permits detention without court permission.
UN warns Myanmar against harsh response
The United Nations special envoy has warned Myanmar's army of "severe consequences" for any harsh response to protesters demonstrating against this month's coup in a call with the military leadership.
UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener spoke on Monday to the deputy head of the junta in what has become a rare channel of communication between Myanmar's army and the outside world.
"Ms Schraner Burgener has reinforced that the right of peaceful assembly must fully be respected and that demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said at the United Nations.
"She has conveyed to the Myanmar military that the world is watching closely, and any form of heavy-handed response is likely to have severe consequences."
In an account of the meeting, Myanmar's army said junta Number Two, Soe Win, had discussed the administration's plans and information on "the true situation of what's happening in Myanmar".
Myanmar's junta has deployed extra troops around the country and choked the internet for the second night in a row as it intensified a crackdown on anti-coup protests, but defiant demonstrators again took to the streets.
The military has steadily escalated efforts to quell an uprising against their seizure of power two weeks ago, which saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained along with hundreds of others, including members of her democratically elected government.
"Patrolling with armoured vehicles means they are threatening people," said 46-year-old Nyein Moe, among the more than 1,000 gathered Monday in front of the Central Bank, staring down armoured vehicles parked there.
"We can't stop now."
By afternoon, news of a strong police presence at the city's headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party drew thousands to the scene.
They chanted "End military dictatorship" as the officers stood guard.
"About seven police officers searched for about 30 minutes (for two MPs)," NLD member Soe Win told AFP after the security forces left without finding them. "Now everything is settled."
Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are expected to be questioned by a court "via video conferencing" in the country's capital of Naypyidaw this week, said lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, adding that he had not been able to make contact with either client.
Neither has been seen in public since they were detained in dawn raids on February 1, the day of the coup.
On Tuesday, another internet blackout blanketed Myanmar, dropping connectivity to 15 percent of ordinary levels, according to UK-based monitoring group NetBlocks.
⚠️ Confirmed: #Myanmar is in the midst of a near-total internet shutdown for a second consecutive night as of 1 AM local time; real-time network data show connectivity at 15% of ordinary levels as concerns grow over public safety after military coup 🕒📉— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 15, 2021
The shutdown comes after a day of protesters taking to the streets in defiance of heavy troop presence around Yangon – although turnout was smaller than in recent days.
The United Nations denounced the choking of the internet.
Burgener warned the deputy commander of the Myanmar army, Soe Win, that "network blackouts undermine core democratic principles," according to Haq.
The envoy noted that such shutdowns "hurt key sectors, including banking, and heighten domestic tensions. And, so, we've made our concerns about this very clear," said Haq.
Across the country, people continued to take to the streets Monday to call for the release of Suu Kyi – with some incidents of violence.
A demonstration led by student groups in Naypyidaw was met with force after the gathering had retreated. Police also arrested dozens of the young protesters, though some were later released.
Mandalay, the country's second largest city, saw a clash which left at least six injured after police used slingshots against protesters and fired rubber bullets into the crowd.
Demonstrators retaliated by throwing bricks, said a rescue team member who assisted with the injured.
"One of them needed oxygen because he was hit with a rubber bullet in his rib," rescue team head Khin Maung Tin told AFP.
Journalists on the scene also said police had beaten them in the melee.
'State-ordered information blackout'
NetBlocks reported Monday that a "state-ordered information blackout" had taken Myanmar almost entirely offline for around eight hours, before connectivity was restored at the start of the working day.
Tuesday's internet blackout would be the fourth since February 1, when the military staged a putsch and detained Suu Kyi, ending a decade-old fledgling democracy after generations of junta rule.
But cutting out internet connectivity, and a step up in arrests, has done little to quell resistance that has seen huge crowds throng big urban centres and isolated frontier villages alike.
The anti-coup movement has continued apace despite intensifying fears of a harsher crackdown, like on Sunday night when troops in the northern city of Myitkyina fired tear gas and then shot into a crowd of protesters.
So far, more than 420 people, including striking workers, have been detained since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
Declaration of war
A joint statement from the US, British and European Union ambassadors urged security forces not to harm civilians.
By late Monday night, the UK embassy in Myanmar took a harsher line, admonishing the regime for its attack on journalists and for imposing another internet blackout.
"The assault on freedom of expression must stop," it tweeted.
UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews told AFP Monday that he does expect Suu Kyi's court hearing to be fair.
"There's nothing fair about the junta. This is theater. It's just theater. And of course, nobody believes them," Andrews said.
"In a kind of an ironic way, the generals have proven their capacity to unify the country in ways that I have never seen," he added.
"They’re a unifier. But unfortunately for them, everyone is unified in opposition to them, and opposition to the idea of once again being under a brutal, military, authoritarian regime," Andrews said.