Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pawns in two show trials

(Bangkok Post) -In opposite corners of Asia this week, harsh and undemocratic regimes will be conducting show trials. The Burmese generals are close to wrapping up their case that charges Aung San Suu Kyi with responsibility for the failure of her jailers to guard her. North Korea is putting two US citizens in the dock on June 4, charged with committing "hostile acts", meaning they were photographing North Korean smugglers and refugees at the Chinese frontier. The two women apparently actually crossed the border, giving the North Koreans a reason to arrest and hold them in jail for the last three months.

The Burmese regime has again increased the physical and psychological pressure on Mrs Suu Kyi. She is held almost incommunicado in the notorious Insein prison on the outskirts of Rangoon. Her lawyers have not been allowed the normal access to the prisoner. As they prepared their closing arguments yesterday, they were denied access once again.

The prisoner is a frail, 63-year-old woman who won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Yet she has frightened members of a military junta so much that they seldom let her even see her defenders, except in a tightly guarded courtroom where the regime is likely to end the show trial on Friday.

The Burmese deputy defence minister showed the sort of contempt for rule of law one has come to expect from the junta. On an official trip to Singapore, Maj Gen Aye Myint told the media there was "no doubt" Mrs Suu Kyi was guilty as charged - of a cover-up, by failing to report a foreigner had got into her compound. This statement during an ongoing trial by a top junta official, demonstrated that the actual courtroom and judges are just a show in Burma.

It leaves the world to wonder why Maj Gen Aye Myint is not on trial for dereliction of duty. His soldiers were ordered to guard Mrs Suu Kyi from all intruders and failed.

Of course, there has been no media coverage allowed of Mrs Suu Kyi's court ordeal. The same will be true in Pyongyang tomorrow, when an equally pre-ordained trial is to get under way with, ironically, journalists in the dock - US citizens of Korean heritage, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

The two women work for Current TV, a cable television station run by former US vice president Al Gore. They were arrested on March 17 by North Korean border guards while reporting on Korean women and children who had fled the Pyongyang regime to China.

The trial and verdict will be whatever the regime wants, but just what that might be is not yet clear. For about the same time as it has held the journalists, North Korea has taken a dangerous and belligerent course. It has fired long-range and medium-range missiles and tested the nuclear weapon designed to fit atop the rockets.

It is widely presumed that North Korea will use the journalists as pawns to put maximum pressure on US President Barack Obama. That, at least, is the latest advice from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She also told the American public they should "get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable".

In both Burma and North Korea, the regimes will use their women prisoners as propaganda tools. They will hold harsh sentences over the heads of their prisoners.

Both countries deserve the harshest censure for such treatment of their helpless captives. Certainly, if either country wants international respect, they must stop such despicable show trials.

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