Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lawyer predicts struggle for justice in Suu Kyi trial

By Sen Lam
Radio Australia

An international lawyer acting for Aung San Suu Kyi says the detained Burmese democracy leader has a desperate challenge to achieve a fair hearing during her trial this week inside a Rangoon prison.

Washington-based international counsel Jared Genser says Ms Suu Kyi has a senior Burmese counsel and two assistants to defend her, but another lawyer in her team has been disbarred from practice by Burmese authorities.

The Nobel peace prize winner is in the second day of her trial, charged with breaching security laws.

An American ex-serviceman, John Yettaw, swam across a Rangoon lake to her home and spent two nights there, despite Ms Suu Kyi's requests that he leave.

Take case to UN

Speaking from Washington to Radio Australia's Connect Asia program, Mr Genser said: "In the context where there is not an independent impartial judiciary and where, frankly, the junta regularly sentences dissidents to lengthy prison terms, (it) is going to be a real challenge to get a fair trial."

Mr Genser said that international supporters planned to take her case, once the trial was concluded, to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

But five times over the last 19 years this body had found that her detention was in violation of international law - "and actually, the most recent opinion, just a number of months ago, found that her detention in that case was even in violation of Burmese law".

He said the time for foreign governments to speak out was coming to an end, as action was now needed on her situation.

"In practical terms, it's a very serious situation for her health," the lawyer said. "Insein prison is notorious for its horrendous conditions, Tuberculosis is rampant, it gets very hot on typical nights with no breeze, bed bugs, mosquitoes. It is really just a grim, grim place. And with her most recent health problems, any lengthy prison term in Insein prison could be a death sentence."

He called for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other international bodies to become involved.

Emergency meeting

"I would say that the three things that are going to be done. First, I would like see the UN Secretary-General make an emergency visit to Burma, and demand to meet with General Than Shwe, to discuss the situation.

"Second, I would like to see an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council if she is in fact convicted to try to press for action in the council.

"And third, I would like to see ASEAN actually step up and say or do something. Frankly, they have not said a word since she was charged and I think that's a terrible statement on behalf of the entire grouping and the grouping is really suffering from having Burma as a member."

The lawyer said he could not say how Ms Suu Kyi, her housekeeper and that woman's daughter - also charged - were at fault when the military junta was responsible for security around her home.

"In fact this gentleman apparently showed up six months ago and in fact was reported to the regime," he said.

Regime at fault

"So the fact that the regime let him back into the country, let alone back into the compound, without having strengthened the security status knowing that it had been breached once before, suggests that they are exclusively at fault."

Mr Genser said he had suspected the country's rulers would come up with a ruse to keep heer detained.

On May 27, her sixth year of house arrest was going to expire - the junta had insisted she was on a six-year sentence although the UN interpretation of a five-year sentence expired a year ago.

"But under the terms that they (the junta) saw it, it was going to expire on May 27 and they do not obviously want her to be out and gathering up tens of thousands of supporters at a speech with the upcoming elections next spring."

During the initial hearing on Monday, the charges against Ms Suu Kyi and the other women were outlined by a senior policeman, one of 22 witnesses to be called during the trial.

He accused her of breaking the rules of her house detention.

Supporters gather

Several hundred protesters as well as government supporters gathered near the prison on the trial's first day in spite of road blocks and the presence of ruling junta's tough security forces.

If found guilty, she faces up to five years in jail.

She has already spent much of the past 20 years in detention.

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