Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the mayor of Myanmar who was deposed by the military in a coup d'état, was charged with an obscure violation on Wednesday: he illegally imported at least ten radios, according to an official from her National League for Democracy. The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.
It was a bizarre postscript of a charged 48 hours in which the military placed the country's most popular leader again under house arrest and destroyed hopes that the Southeast Asian nation could one day serve as a beacon of democracy in a world awash emerging authoritarianism.
The surprising use of walkie-talkies to justify the imprisonment of a Nobel Peace Prize winner reinforced the military's tendency to use a fine-grained strategy to neutralize its greatest political rival. The impeached president of the country is also facing jail for alleged violations of coronavirus restrictions.
The court order to detain Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, issued by officials from the party that ruled Myanmar until the putsch on Monday, was dated the day of the coup and authorized her detention for 15 days. According to the document, soldiers searching her villa in Naypyidaw, the capital, had found various communications equipment that had been brought into the country without proper papers.
The coup overturned an elected government regarded by voters as the last line of defense against an army that had ruled the country outright for nearly five decades. During his five-year tenure, the National League for Democracy received two resounding mandates, most recently in general election last November.
As the putsch progressed, the military resorted to the trusty playbook of dictatorship: shutting down Internet services, suspending flights, and detaining critics. Her most loyal ministers, Buddhist monks, writers, activists and a filmmaker were also arrested along with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
Yet in the bewildered silence that followed the army's takeover, few soldiers patrolled the streets. Monday night, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was back at her villa in Naypyidaw, instead of languishing in one of the country's notorious prison cells. There were no more mass arrests and the internet came back online.
Relative peace – this so far appeared to be a largely bloodless coup – prompted some people in Myanmar to cautiously raise their voices against the reimposition of the military. While some people removed the flags of the National League for Democracy from outside their homes, others took part in petty civil disobedience campaigns, hitting pots and pans or honking their car horns to protest the coup.
Dozens of workers on a mobile network dropped out over objection to their employer's military ties. Doctors in a hospital posed together, each with three fingers raised in a provocative greeting from the "Hunger Games" movies. The gesture has become a symbol of the demonstrations for democracy in neighboring Thailand, where there are also rumors of coups.
The charge against Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for a total of 15 years before the generals released her in 2010, echoed previous allegations of esoteric legal crimes. In one case, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had her detention extended because an American man swam unannounced to her lakeside villa, which caused her to violate the terms of her detention.
But when such crimes seem absurd, they have real consequences. The military had made a habit of sidelining political rivals and critics by saddling them with mysterious crimes.
Along with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, one of her political acolytes who was also detained on Monday, was issued an arrest warrant for violating the coronavirus emergency rules. According to U Kyi Toe, the National League for Democracy official, he was accused of greeting a car full of supporters during last year's election campaign season.
If Mr. Win Myint is found guilty, he could face three years in prison. Having a criminal record can prevent him from returning to the presidency.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council, which had convened an emergency meeting on Myanmar, declined to issue a statement condemning the coup; China and Russia were against such a move.
In Washington, the State Department said it had concluded that the takeover of the military was indeed a coup d'etat, a label that will affect some US foreign aid to the country.
Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw, staged its first coup in 1962, a bloody exercise that paved the way for nearly five decades of iron-fisted direct rule. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and leading figures of her National League for Democracy were incarcerated during what should have been their political peak.
The generals ordered massacres of pro-democracy protesters and sent soldiers to remove members of ethnic minorities from their country. Even as the junta began to give a civilian administration some leeway to operate, it ensured that the military would still control much of the economic and political sphere.
Confirmation of the charges against Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peaceful resistance to the military, trickled through a whirlwind of rumors on Wednesday. Early in the afternoon, lawmakers from the National League for Democracy exchanged bits of misinformation, even when they were themselves under military custody.
It was rumored that she would be charged with high treason, a crime punishable by death. Another iteration said she was charged with electoral fraud. No one suspected that walkie-talkies were involved in her alleged sin.
In a statement released by the army chief's office on Tuesday, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Tatmadaw, said it had acted in the best interests of Myanmar's citizens.
“During successive periods, the Myanmar Tatmadaw has used the motto 'People Are the Parents' when it comes to the people, '' said the statement, before insisting that mass fraud involving voters in November last year's elections had forced her a coup.
The National League for Democracy, which oversaw the nation's election commission, rejected Tatmadaw's charge that voter manipulation had resulted in a bad showing by the military's proxy party.
On Wednesday, National League for Democracy lawmakers who had been confined to their living quarters by soldiers released a statement saying they still supported Mr. Win Myint as president. They rejected suggestions that they had been relieved of their legislative duties. The national assembly would meet on the day of the coup for the first time since the November elections.
"Stop the intervention actions," lawmakers warned the Tatmadaw. It seemed like a warning two days late.