Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Suu Kyi Trial Continues

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON (AP) — Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced a second day of a closed-door trial Tuesday as international criticism mounted against a military regime that repeatedly has found pretexts for keeping her in detention over most of the past two decades.

Suu Kyi, her two companions under house arrest, and an American, John W. Yettaw, are being tried together for violating the conditions of her restriction order, which bans visitors without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

Yettaw prompted the charges by swimming to her property and sneaking into her home for reasons which are still unclear.

Hundreds of police in full riot gear, some armed with rifles, were deployed along all roads leading to Insein prison as the trial continued Tuesday morning. The country's major activist groups have vowed to stage peaceful protests until Suu Kyi is freed.

Last week's arrest of the Nobel Peace laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, reignited criticism of Burma's military junta, and led to renewed calls by world leaders for her immediate release.

US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the charges against Suu Kyi were "unjustified" and called for her unconditional release and that of more than 2,100 other political prisoners.

Suu Kyi's arrest could well derail a "softer" approach that the Obama administration had been searching for to replace Washington's sanctions and other get-tough policies which did nothing to divert the ruling junta's iron-fisted rule.

Even Burma's partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, who rarely criticize one another, expressed "grave concern," saying "the honor and the credibility of the Myanmar government are at stake."

The statement Monday night was issued by Thailand, which currently chairs the 10-nation bloc.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris, one of several cities where activists rallied, called Suu Kyi's trial a "scandalous provocation."

Until now, 63-year-old Suu Kyi was detained under the State Protection Act, which allows the military regime to hold people without a trial if they are considered a threat, said Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma. The new charges of violating the terms of her house arrest could lead to imprisonment under much harsher conditions.

Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of house arrest, but it was expected that the military government would try to find reason to hold her, as has happened in the past.

The new charges are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep Suu Kyi out of elections it scheduled for next spring as the culmination of its "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as an attempt to legitimize continued military control. Many other prominent dissidents received long jail terms last year, which could hurt any opposition effort to contest the polls.

The ambassadors of Britain, France, Germany and Italy as well as an Australian diplomat were barred from entering the prison compound for the trial, but US consular chief Colin Furst was allowed in.

Yettaw is also being tried separately for violations of immigration law and a statute covering swimming in the city's Inya Lake.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party and one of four lawyers representing her at the trial, said the court, "for security reasons," rejected their request to open her trial to the public and media. The trial is expected to last about three months.

Her lawyers have so far not contested the government's version of events, but insist she is not guilty.

In the trial's opening day, police Lt-Col. Zaw Min Aung laid out the prosecution's basic case—that Suu Kyi, two female party members who are her companions, and Yettaw violated the terms of her restriction order, which bans any visitors without official permission, said Nyan Win. The police official was the first of 22 scheduled prosecution witnesses.

Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, swam under cover of darkness early this month to sneak into Suu Kyi's compound, where he was allowed to stay for two days after pleading that he was too ill and tired to leave. He allegedly made a similar visit last year.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have said he was not invited to her residence, and that she told him to leave.

Yettaw's family have described him as a well-intentioned admirer of Suu Kyi, unaware of the problems his actions could trigger. Her supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble.

Parliamentary rule in Burma was overthrown by a coup in 1962, and the army has been in control since then. Suu Kyi's party won elections in 1990 but the junta refused to recognize the results.

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