Monday, June 1, 2009

Insein Prison Trial is a One-Way Street

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi believes she is innocent and will continue to defend herself against the charge she faces in the Insein Prison court, according to her lawyers.

One of her lawyers, Kyi Win, told The Irrawaddy that, according to the evidence, “we have a very good case because she has not breached any conditions and restrictions imposed upon her.”

Analysts believe, however, that the regime is likely to extend her detention, pointing to the latest official statement on the case. Burmese Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Aye Myint told a security conference in Singapore, “If offenders are not [prosecuted], anarchy will prevail, and there will be breach of peace and security.”

Breach of peace and security? What can the man mean?

Kyi Win was firm in saying that the Nobel Peace Prize winner broke no law or any of the restrictions imposed upon her during her current term of house arrest, which expired last week.

First, the restrictions bar Suu Kyi or anybody else condemned to house arrest from communicating with any foreign embassy or any political party or connected persons. House arrest restrictions also bar any postal or telephone communication with the outside world.

Suu Kyi strictly followed these regulations, addressing the regime leaders in Naypyidaw through her lawyers. Their legal appeal against an extension of her house arrest was rejected by the regime, indicating that the military leaders had already made up their minds to keep her in detention.

According to Kyi Win, the American who gained access to Suu Kyi’s home, John William Yettaw, had been guilty of breaching security, not she. “John W Yettaw came into her compound without her knowledge or invitation and he was the one who was breaching the security cordon placed around her house,” he said.

Suu Kyi asked Yettaw to leave but he begged to stay, promising to leave soon. Suu Kyi gave him the benefit of the doubt, the lawyer said.

Consequently, it’s Yettaw who should be on trial for breaches of security, not Suu Kyi. Yet, to the surprise of her lawyers, Suu Kyi said last week that she wanted to offend no one, including the regime, at her trial.

During the court proceedings, Suu Kyi is careful not to make accusations or jump onto the bandwagon of those who suggest that the case was set up by the regime to extend her detention.

“Suu Kyi herself does not suspect the government of that kind of set-up and that’s her attitude,” Kyi Win told The Irrawaddy.

“I lost my words [after hearing Suu Kyi’s remarks],” Kyi Win said.

“I was astonished to hear that kind of attitude from her,” he added with evident admiration.

During the three weeks she has now been held in Insein Prison, Suu Kyi has been denied even the limited access to outside news that she had in her home.

At home she at least had a radio and is believed to have kept herself well up to date with news on Burma and the rest of the world. Visiting UN officials were often surprised to learn how well informed she was.

In Insein Prison, however, she has no access to a radio and very limited access to news from outside. She did meet some diplomats who were allowed to attend two sessions of her trial last week, but journalists who were also present were not allowed to talk to her.

Through her lawyers, though, Suu Kyi has learned about the international outcry against her trial and the overwhelming support she commands.

Kyi Win said, “I conveyed sentiment and support from world leaders including [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown, [US President] Obama and many other leaders. She expressed her sincere thanks to them.”

Moral support alone is not enough, however.

Another of her lawyers, Nyan Win, who is also spokesman of her National League for Democracy, questioned the country’s judicial system and its independence.

It is believed that the details of the court proceedings have been submitted to the top leaders in Naypyidaw. Diplomats have said they believe that the verdict has already been written, ready to be read out on the final day of the trial.

There is no doubt that junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe holds the key to the final decision. Political observers in Rangoon believe that the decision to postpone the trial until Friday also came from Than Shwe. The judges exercise no power in the Insein Prison court.

Although they know the verdict has already been decided, Suu Kyi’s lawyers say they cannot afford to lose hope. “We will always have hope,” Kyi Win said.

Kyi Win and Nyan Win did not want to comment on why the regime has suddenly postponed the trial until Friday.

Has Than Shwe perhaps had second thoughts as international pressure mounts? Analysts say that he still can still exercise one option—placing Suu Kyi under house arrest with a suspended sentence—hoping with such a gesture to reduce at least some of the pressure.

The regime is unpredictable, however, and defendants who appear before special courts in Insein Prison rarely receive any mercy from the military authorities.

There are plenty of examples, including 88 Generation Students leader Min Ko Naing, Shan leader Hkun Htun Oo and prominent journalist and activist Win Tin, all sentenced by these courts to long jail sentences.

Whoever is unfortunate enough to be brought to trial before a special court in Insein Prison stands in a one-way street, where there is no U-turn. Suu Kyi is probably no exception, despite Kyi Win’s note of optimism.

Suu Kyi undoubtedly knows where she stands. “She is aware that there is no rule of law in the country,” according to Nyan Win.

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