Suu Kyi's lawyers unable to meet with her to plan appeals

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BANGKOK (AP) — Lawyers for ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is serving a 33-year prison sentence on what are widely seen as contrived charges, have been denied meetings with her as they prepare her appeals, legal officials familiar with her situation said.

In December, a court sentenced Suu Kyi, 77, to seven years in prison on corruption charges in the last of a string of criminal cases against her, leaving her with a total of 33 years to serve. That was the last time her lawyers have seen her in person.

The army seized power and detained Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021, the day when her party would have begun a second-five-year term in office after winning a landslide victory in a 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 keep her from returning to politics.

Most of the appeals that lawyers have filed on her behalf have already been rejected, but some are still being processed, a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities told The Associated Press. Her lawyers, who had been a source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in late 2021.

Currently, the lawyers are waiting for an appointment with the Supreme Court for it to hear their appeal of her convictions 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 had not received any confirmation they can do so, the legal official said.

According to the colonial-era jail manual still in use in Myanmar’s prison system, every newly convicted prisoner should be allowed reasonable facilities for seeing or communicating with relatives or friends to prepare an appeal or to procure bail. Prisoners can communicate with any person to arrange appeals of their conviction, the law says.

Because her lawyers have been unable to meet with Suu Kyi, they cannot receive her instructions on handling her appeals or even confirm her health situation, said a second legal official, who also asked not to be identified because he fears punishment by the authorities,

The lawyers are allowed to send parcels for Suu Kyi via prison authorities once a week.

A spokesperson for the Prisons Department did not respond to inquiries about the lawyers’ assertions. According to the jail manual, prison superintendents are allowed to refuse to grant prisoners permission for meetings if they think it is against the public interest, or if another sufficient cause exists.

Suu Kyi was convicted on a range of charges, including illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, breaching the country’s official secrets act, sedition and election fraud.

The military-installed government has not allowed any outside party to meet with Suu Kyi since it seized power, despite international pressure for talks including her that could ease 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 watchdog group that tracks killings and arrests.