BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to hear appeals of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s convictions and requests for reduced sentences in several cases in which she was charged with corruption, election fraud, and violating the official secrets act, a legal official said.
Suu Kyi, 77, was arrested on 1 February 2021, when the military seized power from her elected government. She is serving prison sentences totaling 33 years after being found guilty in a series of politically driven prosecutions brought by the military.
Her supporters and independent legal experts say the cases are an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s takeover, while preventing her from returning to politics.
A legal official familiar with Suu Kyi’s court cases said the Supreme Court has not yet set a date to hear the appeals and requests for reduced sentences but might do so in the next two months.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information about the decision. Suu Kyi’s lawyers, who had been a source of information about the proceedings, were served with gag orders in late 2021.
Suu Kyi has been convicted on a range of charges, including illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition and seven other corruption matters. Most appeals filed by her lawyers on her behalf have already been rejected.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court’s decision was not publicly announced. Myanmar’s justice system operates with little transparency, and all of Suu Kyi’s trials were closed sessions.
The army’s 2021 takeover was met with massive nonviolent resistance which was suppressed by the military with deadly force and has turned into a widespread armed struggle. The military-installed government has not allowed any outside person to meet with Suu Kyi since she was arrested despite international pressure for talks that could ease the country’s political crisis.
At least 17,517 political detainees, including Suu Kyi, were being held as of Wednesday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent organization that keeps verified tallies of arrests and casualties linked to the nation’s political conflict.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a corruption case in which Suu Kyi was convicted of abusing her position and causing a loss of state funds by neglecting to heed financial regulations. She was sentenced in December to seven years in prison on five corruption charges for granting permission to Win Myat Aye, a Cabinet member in her former government, to hire, buy and maintain a helicopter.
It also agreed to hear a request for a reduced sentence in a case involving the country’s official secrets act. Suu Kyi received a three-year sentence last September after being convicted with Sean Turnell, an Australian economist, and three members of her Cabinet. An earlier appeal of the conviction in a lower court was rejected.
Turnell, who served as an adviser to Suu Kyi, and two of the convicted Cabinet members were released after receiving amnesties. The most recent, Kyaw Win, a former minister of planning and finance, was among more than 3,000 prisoners freed on Monday to mark the traditional New Year holiday.
The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a request for a reduced sentence in election fraud convictions of Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint, and the former minister of the president’s office, Min Thu. They each received three-year sentences last September.
Suu Kyi’s legal team has faced several handicaps, including being unable to meet with her to receive her instructions as they prepare her appeals. They have applied three times for permission to meet with Suu Kyi since they last saw her in person in December, but have not received any response, the legal official said. Prison regulations are supposed to allow every newly convicted prisoner to communicate with any person to arrange appeals.
However, prison superintendents are allowed to refuse permission for meetings if they think they would be against the public interest.
By GRANT PECK Associated Press