BANGKOK (AP) – Lawyers for ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is serving a 33-year sentence on charges widely believed to be fabricated, have been denied meetings with her while they prepare her appeals, judicial officials familiar with her situation said.
In December, a court sentenced 77-year-old Suu Kyi to seven years in prison, totaling 33 years, on corruption charges in the latest in a series of criminal cases against her. That was the last time her lawyers saw her in person.
The army seized power and arrested Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021, the day her party would have started a second five-year term after winning a landslide victory in the November 2020 general election.
Her supporters and independent analysts say the charges against her are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power and discourage her from returning to politics.
Most of the appeals that lawyers have filed on her behalf have already been dismissed, but some are still being processed, a justice official, who insisted on anonymity for fear of punishment by authorities, told The Associated Press. Her lawyers, who had been a source of information about the proceedings, were served with gag orders in late 2021.
Lawyers are currently awaiting an appointment with the Supreme Court to hear their appeal against their conviction last December on five corruption charges.
The lawyers applied to prison authorities in mid-January for permission to meet with Suu Kyi to discuss the appeals, but as of Tuesday they had received no confirmation that they could do so, the judicial official said.
According to the colonial-era prison manual still used in the Myanmar prison system, every newly sentenced prisoner should be given reasonable opportunities to see or communicate with relatives or friends to prepare an appeal or secure bail. Prisoners can communicate with any person to appeal their conviction, the law states.
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Because her lawyers were unable to meet with Suu Kyi, they were unable to receive her instructions on how to process her appeals or even confirm her health status, said a second justice official, who also asked not to be identified, fearing punishment from the authorities .
The lawyers are allowed to send packages for Suu Kyi through the prison authorities once a week.
A prison department spokesman did not respond to inquiries about the attorneys’ claims. According to the prison handbook, prison wardens may deny prisoners permission to gather if they believe it is against the public interest or if there is another reasonable cause.
Suu Kyi was convicted on a range of charges including illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, violating the country’s official secrets law, sedition and voter fraud.
The military-installed government has not allowed any outside party to meet with Suu Kyi since coming to power, despite international pressure to initiate talks with her that could defuse the country’s political crisis.
Myanmar security forces have killed at least 3,073 civilians and arrested 19,954, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group that tracks killings and arrests.