Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Court Set to Rule on Witnesses for Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON (AP)— Lawyers for Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed hope Tuesday that a court would accept their request to reinstate three defense witnesses at a trial that has sparked global outrage.

Defense lawyer Nyan Win said the Rangoon Divisional Court planned to announce at 3:00 p.m. (0830 GMT) whether it would reverse the decision of District Court judges presiding over Suu Kyi's trial. The lower court disqualified all but one defense witness.

Burmese riot police officers chat while taking position near police trucks, parked in front of the City Hall in downtown Rangoon on June 5. (Photo: AP)

The 63-year-old Nobel laureate is widely expected to be found guilty of violating the terms of her lengthy house arrest because an uninvited American man swam secretly to her closely guarded lakeside home and stayed two days. Suu Kyi has been detained without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, including the past six.

The trial has drawn outrage from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who say the military junta is using the bizarre case of the American swimmer as an excuse to keep Suu Kyi detained through next year's elections. Her party won the last elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power by the military, which has run the country since 1962.

The mostly closed-door trial, which started May 18, is taking place inside the compound of Burma's notorious Insein Prison, home to many of the junta's political prisoners. Closing arguments were postponed until the court rules on the defense witnesses.

"We are confident that the Divisional Court will accept our request," which is based on Suu Kyi's legal right to have witnesses, particularly in such an important case, said Nyan Win, who is also a spokesman for Suu Kyi's opposition party. He said the decision to bar all but one witness was "not in accord with the law."

Those rejected by the lower court were all members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party: prominent journalist and former political prisoner Win Tin, the party's vice chairman Tin Oo, currently under house arrest, and lawyer Khin Moe Moe.

The court had approved 23 prosecution witnesses, of whom 14 took the stand, according to Suu Kyi's lawyers.

The defense has not contested the basic facts of the case but argues that the relevant law has been misapplied by the authorities. They also assert that any intrusion was the responsibility of the security forces guarding the house.

Two women members of Suu Kyi's party who are her sole companions in house arrest and the American, John Yettaw, are being tried with her on the same charge.

If the Divisional Court rejects their appeal to have the witnesses heard, the defense team would appeal to the High Court, said lead attorney, Kyi Win. The High Court is Burma's top court.

A radio station that serves as a propaganda organ for the junta, Padauk Myay, said Sunday that efforts by Suu Kyi's attorneys to reinstate the defense witnesses were just a pretext to allow Win Tin and Tin Oo to discuss party affairs with Suu Kyi.

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