Although detained by Myanmar's military government on a slew of charges, ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was able to hold a small birthday celebration during a court appearance Monday, a legal official said.
Suu Kyi, whose elected government was overthrown by the army in February 2021, turned 77 on Sunday.
She is among over 11,124 people currently detained for opposing military rule, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps detailed tallies of civilians jailed or killed by government forces.
The military's seizure of power met with widespread resistance, and some U.N. experts now describe Myanmar as being in a civil war.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party won a landslide election victory in 2020, and she remains widely regarded by Myanmar's people as the country's legitimate leader. She is admired for leading a long, nonviolent struggle to restore democracy in Myanmar, for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize. But once-admiring foreign sympathizers blame her for doing little or nothing to stop atrocities committed by security forces against the Muslim Rohingya minority in 2017.
Suu Kyi is now being tried on multiple charges, including corruption, that her supporters say are politically motivated to discredit her and legitimize the military's seizure of power. She has already been sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted on charges of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition and an initial corruption charge.
A legal official familiar with her court proceedings said Suu Kyi cut a cake to celebrate her birthday when she met with her lawyers before Monday's court hearing on corruption charges, then gave pieces to her lawyers, police and court staff. The cake had been sent on her birthday by her lawyers via police to the secret location where she is being held, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information.
All of Suu Kyi's trials are closed to the media, and the public and her lawyers have been barred by a gag order from providing details of the proceedings.
Suu Kyi's 77th birthday was an occasion for celebration as well as for protests demanding the release of all political prisoners.
On Sunday, scattered pro-democracy street protests were held, mostly by young people, in cities including Yangon and Mandalay.
Photos and video on social media showed the protesters carried her picture and banners that read "Freedom from Fear" — the name of a collection of her writings — and "Be in good health, Aung San's daughter," referring to her father, who led the struggle to free the country from British colonialism in the 1940s.
Anti-government guerrillas in border regions that the army does not control also celebrated her birthday.
Her supporters, including Buddhist monks, posted photos of themselves online showing them displaying the three-fingered salute that is a symbol of resistance.
Opposition leaders earlier released a statement urging people to mark the birthday on Sunday by going to pagodas, churches and mosques to pray for the release of political prisoners.
Some young people in Yangon went to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda amid tight security and heavy rain to pray silently for the release of Suu Kyi and other prisoners.
"I prayed for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained prisoners. I washed a Buddha statue with 77 cups of water to mark Mother Suu's birthday," Pone Pone, a resident of Yangon, told The Associated Press.