Burma’s Suu Kyi Asks Court to Let Her Meet Lawyers, Activists Urge New Year Defiance

Burma’s (also known as Myanmar) detained government leader Aung San Suu Kyi asked a court on Monday to be allowed to meet her lawyers in person when she appeared at a hearing via video link to face charges brought by the military junta that could see her jailed for years.

As Suu Kyi appeared, her supporters called for people to show their opposition to the Feb. 1 coup during this week’s traditional new year holiday in the largely Buddhist country.

Suu Kyi, 75, who has led Burma’s struggle against military rule for decades and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been detained since the coup and charged with various offenses. These include violating a colonial-era official secrets act that could see her jailed for 14 years.

She has only been allowed to talk with her lawyers via video link in the presence of security officials and it is not known if she is even aware of the turmoil that has engulfed the country since the military seized power.

“No, we haven’t, we could only talk about legal matters,” lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters when asked if her legal team had been able to talk to her about the protests in which more than 700 people have been killed.

The lawyer said Suu Kyi looked healthy as she repeated a request to meet her lawyers face-to-face. The next hearing is on April 26.

As well as the official secrets charge, Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally possessing two-way radios and violating coronavirus protocols. She has also been accused by the ruling military council of bribery.

Her lawyers say the charges were trumped up and they dismiss the accusation of bribery as a joke.

An additional complaint against her was filed on Monday related to the coronavirus rules, Min Min Soe said.

The coup has plunged Burma into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps towards democracy as the military stepped back from politics and allowed Suu Kyi to form a government after her party swept a 2015 election.

The military says it had to overthrow her government because a November election again won by her National League for Democracy was rigged. The election commission dismissed the accusation.

The coup has triggered relentless protests by those opposed to military rule, and unyielding suppression by the generals who say that only they can save the country from disintegration.

Silent Protests

Security forces have killed 710 protesters since the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.

That included 82 people killed in the town of Bago, about 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Yangon, on Friday.

Despite the violence, people return to the streets day after day, demanding an end to military rule and the release of the leader of Suu Kyi.

Activists cancelled traditional new year festivities on Tuesday and instead showed their anger through silent displays of defiance and small protests across the country.

The five-day New Year holiday, known as Thingyan, is usually celebrated with prayers, ritual cleaning of Buddha images in temples and high-spirited water-dousing on the streets.

“We do not celebrate Myanmar Thingyan this year since over 700 of our innocent brave souls have been killed,” said one Twitter user named Shwe Ei.

Women wearing fine clothes for the most important holiday of the year protested on Tuesday holding traditional pots containing seven flowers and sprigs that are displayed at this time.

Many people painted the protesters’ three-finger salute on their Thingyan pots.

Small protests were held in numerous towns, according to images posted by media. In some places, people set out dozens of Thingyan pots daubed with messages such as “Save Myanmar” in silent shows of opposition to the military.

There were no immediate reports of violence but information has become scarce because of the junta’s curbs on broadband internet and mobile data services.

A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.