Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Burmese Legal Experts Criticize Suu Kyi Trial

The Irrawaddy News

The absolute control of Burma’s military regime on the country’s judicial system makes the ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi unfree and unfair, according to Burmese legal experts.

Legal experts made their remarks in response to high-ranking junta members who have publicly commented on the trial in recent days.

"If offenders are not [prosecuted], anarchy will prevail, and there will be breach of peace and security," Burmese Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Aye Myint told a security conference over the weekend, referring to the pro-democracy leader who is now on trial in Insein Prison in Rangoon.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum of defense ministers, academics, experts and analysts, the deputy minister lashed out at foreign critics of Suu Kyi’s trial last weekend, accusing them of meddling in Burmese affairs and denying the trial was a political or human rights issue.

Aye Myint said that Suu Kyi "committed a cover-up of the truth by her failure to report an illegal immigrant.”

"Thus there was no option but to proceed with legal proceedings," he said. "It is the universal legal principle that no one is above the law."

Aung Thein, a well-known Burmese lawyer and member of the National League for Democracy party, responded, “Accusing Suu Kyi of being an ‘offender’ even before the decision of a judge shows that Burmese military leaders can influence Burmese laws and courts. Moreover, it is clearly a violation of human rights. They showed that they have decided to put Suu Kyi in prison anyway.”

“To be a fair trial, it must be open and offer a chance to defend freely. Suu Kyi’s trial is grossly unfair because the sole defense witness is Kyi Win [no relation to Suu Kyi’s lawyer Kyi Win]. It shows clearly that Burmese military leaders influenced the judgment of the case. If the executive body were separated from the judicial body, it could not influence the judicial body,” he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint rebuked his counterparts from Southeast Asia and Europe at a meeting in Cambodia last week, saying the trial was an "internal legal" issue.

“It’s not political. It’s not a human rights issue, so we don’t accept the pressure and interference from abroad,” said Maung Myint.

Thein Oo, the chairman of the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) in exile, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “Suu Kyi’s trial shows that there is no freedom of judgment in Burma, and the Burmese military dominates the courts. It is a characteristic of dictatorships. Aung San Suu Kyi did not get a fair defense, and the trial is closed.”

Kyi Win, the legal expert and member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, argued there was no legal basis to the charge that Suu Kyi had violated the terms of her house arrest when an American citizen secretly swam to her home.

Suu Kyi has entered a not guilty plea. She said last week that the charges against her were “one-sided.” Her lawyers insist it was the duty of government security guards outside her closely watched compound to prevent any intrusions.

The brisk trial has drawn outrage from the international community and Suu Kyi supporters, who worry that the military junta has found a way to keep her detained through next year's elections and beyond.

Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate, could be sentenced to prison for five years.

According to the Associated Press, lawyers for pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi said that they had earlier asked the court to allow three defense witnesses. The judge approved one defense witness.

A lawyer for Suu Kyi, Nyan Win, said the defense team would submit an appeal on Tuesday at a division court in Rangoon.

No more testimony is expected in the closed trial until Friday. A guilty verdict is widely expected as Burmese courts have a track record of passing tough sentences on dissidents, often in secret trials.

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