Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Predicting Suu Kyi’s trial is “contempt of court”: Junta’s mouthpiece

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – With speculation rife that the court will pronounce pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi “guilty”, Burma’s state-run newspaper on Wednesday warned against predicting the outcome saying it amounts to ‘contempt of court’.

A commentary in the New Light of Myanmar, the junta’s mouthpiece, on Wednesday justified the trial against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her two live-in party mates and John William Yettaw, the American man, who swam across a lake and sneaked into Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, saying they have violated the law.

The newspaper while justifying the charges and trial said, “Everyone who breaches the law shall face a lawsuit and obey the court decision.”

On Tuesday, the court heard final arguments by the defence attorneys, formally ending the over two-month long trial. Now the court’s verdict is awaited on Friday.

Nyan Win, one of the defence lawyers, told Mizzima on Tuesday that legally the trial has proved Aung San Suu Kyi’s innocence and there is not sufficient ground to find her guilty. But he refused to comment on the possible outcome of the trial.

But many observers including senior leaders of the National League for Democracy, Win Tin, said the court will find her “guilty” and sentence her to a prison term.

However, the newspaper on Wednesday warned against such comments saying, “biased writings about the trial in progress, writings about which side will win or lose in that trial, predicted writings about the possibility of the defendant’s conviction and writings about tendency to give instructions to the judgment of the judge” amounts to contempt of court.

But Win Tin said the trial itself is unfair and there are no grounds to charge the pro-democracy leader as it is not her fault in a stranger forcing his way into her house, as she had not invited him.

He said the court is not acting independently in filing a lawsuit against the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate and even in the trial, stating instances of the court dismissing two out of the four defence witnesses while allowing several prosecution witnesses.

He said even in the last stage of the trial – submission of final arguments by lawyers of both sides – the court has shown partiality towards the prosecution by setting a two-day gap after the defence had submitted their arguments.

“Daw Suu had told her lawyer that she was not happy with the two-day gap between the defence and prosecution’s submission of their final arguments,” Win Tin said.

The trial, which began on May 18, has attracted the attention of human rights activists, politicians, world leaders and celebrities calling for her immediate release along with other political prisoners in Burma.

The commentary on Wednesday also attacked such calls saying calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release while she is facing a court trial amounts to contempt of court.

Despite the newspaper’s claim that Aung San Suu Kyi would be released if she is found not guilty, Win Tin said it is obvious that the junta is all set to continue detaining her.

“It seems to me that the junta is all set to detain her in anyway. But it may possibly buy-time in doing so if the pressures mount,” Win Tin said.

He added that with the kind of international as well as internal pressure mounting over the trial, the Insein prison court might not pass a strong verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi.

“But it is likely that the prosecution will go to a higher court and appeal and then they will sentence her,” he added.

According to him, it is unlikely that the Insein prison court will sentence her heavily at the moment to ease the mounting pressure, but that does not mean Aung San Suu Kyi will be acquitted.

“In anyway, they will detain her,” he added.

He also said, Wednesday’s commentary in the New Light of Myanmar might be a warning that the junta intends to crackdown on opposition figures, who are commenting on the trial and speculating on the junta’s possible plans.

READ MORE---> Predicting Suu Kyi’s trial is “contempt of court”: Junta’s mouthpiece...

Politicians mull over Suu Kyi verdict

(DVB)–Several senior Burmese politicians and lawyers said yesterday that it was likely Aung San Suu Kyi would be jailed on Friday in a ploy to keep her behind bars for next year’s elections.

Speaking to DVB yesterday as the trial drew to a close, central court lawyer Aung Thein said that there is a prevailing sense in Burma that the ruling junta “wants to keep Daw Suu far from Burma’s politics”.

His comments were echoed by the prime minister of the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Dr Sein Win.

“This is a political strategy by the junta to keep Daw Aung San Suu Kyi away from the public and I find this very unfair.”

Yesterday morning the prosecution team wrapped up its final statements in a trial that has dragged on for almost three months.

The trial was initially expected to last only a matter of weeks, but it appears that a series of delays and digressions were a reaction to the international pressure that has piled up on the regime.

Several minor concessions have since been offered by the regime, including a suggestion at the UN Security Council that the government would soon release a number of prisoners in response to demands made by UN chief Ban Ki-moon when he visited Burma earlier this month.

“I think they will jail Daw Suu, and then wait and see what’s the world’s reaction is like,” said senior National League for Democracy member, Win Tin.

“Depending on that reaction, maybe they will include her among the list of [prisoner] amnesties promised to the UN.”

The vice chairperson of the Mon National Democratic Front, Nai Ngwe Thein, said that the work done by the junta to carry this case through in the face of international pressure meant that “they are going to send her to prison”.

If Suu Kyi is found guilty of breaching conditions of her house arrest, she could up to five years in prison.

The end of the trial coincided with Amnesty International awarding Suu Kyi its highest accolade, that of Ambassador of Conscience.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew and Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Politicians mull over Suu Kyi verdict...

Energy investments ‘at expense’ of Burma population

(DVB)–Civil society groups have criticised ASEAN’s energy investments in Burma that only benefit neighbouring countries whilst leaving the majority of the Burmese population in the dark.

A joint statement released by three groups coincides with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministers for Energy Meeting which is underway in Burma’s second city of Mandalay this week.

The Burma Rivers Network (BRN), the Shwe Gas Movement (SGM) and the Ethnic Community Development Forum (ECDF) in their statement addressed the lack of electricity being provided to the Burmese population.

The groups highlight that the electricity consumption rate of Burma is only 5 percent of that in Thailand yet the Burmese government continues to export energy to its energy hungry neighbours.

“Burma’s military regime is steaming ahead with plans to export even more energy resources to its neighbors,” said the statement.

“These include plans for over 20 large hydroelectric dams to power Thailand, China and ASEAN power grid, and trans-Burma oil and gas pipelines to China set to begin in September this year.”

It is reported that exported gas from Burma’s controversial Yadana and Yetagun fields’ fuels 20 percent of Thailand’s electricity needs while none fuels its own households.

The statement voices concerns that more energy investments will only increase human rights violations and make the population angrier at the lack of electricity.

“Energy projects in Burma should be for the benefit of Burmese people and not at their expense,” the statement said.

Wong Aung, from the Shwe Gas Movement, said that the ASEAN energy meeting will only “further enrage” the Burmese population.

“The generals are pocketing huge amounts from the projects but we are left in the dark,” he said.

Oilwatch Southeast Asia, a network of Southeast Asian environmental NGOs, has similarly expressed concern that previous projects have led to the loss of livelihood as fishing communities face fishing restrictions.

The organisation states that oil projects increase human rights abuses due to the presence of soldiers safeguarding the sites, who have reportedly used forced labour and forced relocation. Instances of rape by soldiers have also been reported.

“It’s very important that the ASEAN Energy Ministers review their investment policies with Burma,” Penchom Tang, spokesman of Oilwatch SEA said.

“They must wait for a democratically elected government so that investments are beneficial for the local people and the environment”.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee

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Army Directorate restricts entry of Chinese travellers

by Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) – As of now Chinese travelers wanting to visit Burma through the border entry points must get prior approval of the Chief of Staff (Army) Office.

The new rule has come into effect from July 16 for Chinese travellers to Burma.

“It is mandatory from now on for Chinese tourists to send the advisory letter to the Chief of Staff (Army) Office before entering Burma. Their tour guide must escort them to Lashio first. If the persons in the list do not match with the persons at the exit point and someone is missing, the guide will be responsible for the missing person(s) and he or she will be interrogated. The guide must take full responsibility for all his guests,” a person close to Chinese traders told Mizzima.

An official of the Mya Padamya Travel Agency in Muse and a resident from Jie Gong, which is near the Sino-Burma border gate, confirmed the new immigration rules.

Chinese tourists have to first apply for approval from the CS (Army) office at Naypyitaw through the Immigration Department on the Sino-Burma border. They can enter Burma only after getting approval from the CS (Army) Office. Previously they could enter Burma easily with the help of travel agencies.

The restriction on visits by Chinese travellers with tour visas is because of visits by the tourists to restricted areas, the person close to Chinese traders said.

“Earlier, they visited Mandalay with ordinary travel permits. Then they visited restricted areas such as Pha Kant and the gold mines. Now the government has restricted their movement inside Burma,” he said.

Eyewitnesses on the border, however, said Chinese jade traders are still entering Burma as they did earlier.

Those who wish to visit Burma for other purposes need invitation letters from their concerned companies and departments.

“If they receive invitation letters from concerned departments for specific purposes such as visiting mining sites, exploratory visits, checking plots owned by their company, economic seminars, then they can get entry permits as either individuals or as part of a package tour. Such visitors must apply for visa at the Burmese embassies. As for border visits, these formalities are not needed. Tourism companies from both countries can arrange it themselves,” he added.

Moreover, illegal import of Chinese goods has been banned since early this month.

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Obama Signs Burma Sanctions Renewal into Law

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON —US President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law the Burma Sanctions Renewal Act, thus extending sanctions on the country’s military junta.

The bill, unanimously passed by both the US House of Representative and the Senate last week, renews the current sanctions on imports from Burma for an additional three years and maintains the ban on the import of jade and other gems from Burma.

In a statement, the White House said Obama signed into law “HJ Res. 56, which renews the import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003.”

Burmese pro-democracy activists in the US welcomed the decision.

“By signing the sanctions renewal resolution, unanimously approved by the Senate and the House on July 24 and 21 respectively, President Obama sends a clear signal to the Burmese military junta that the United States’ support of the democracy movement in Burma led by Aung San Suu Kyi is still strong, consistent and decisive,” said Aung Din, the executive director of the US Campaign for Burma.

The renewal of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act follows Obama’s decision on May 15 to extend investment prohibitions against the Burmese military regime that began under President Bill Clinton.

The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act was first enacted in 2003 under the leadership of the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos.

“I introduced the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act because we must show the military regime currently ruling with an iron fist in Burma that there are consequences for their actions,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley, one of the sponsors of the legislation.

“Burma’s military regime has carried out a brutal campaign against its own people. It has destroyed 3,000 villages, forced one million people to flee as refugees, used rape as a weapon of war, and pressed millions of civilians into forced labor—modern-day slave labor,” he added.

Crowley said that the junta has also rejected recent diplomatic outreach, which would have been well-received in the global community.

“Specifically, the junta refused United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s request to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the nonviolent movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. Not only did the junta refuse Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, they even refused Ban Ki-moon’s request to meet with her,” he said.

READ MORE---> Obama Signs Burma Sanctions Renewal into Law...

Clinton’s Flawed Burma Message

The Irrawaddy News

Despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s insistence on her innocence, the learned support of her lawyers and the international community, it’s clear that the generals are determined to keep her locked up.

The final verdict in her bizarre trial in Rangoon’s Insein Prison will be announced on Friday, and security around Rangoon is being beefed up in readiness for possible protests.

Suu Kyi is charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest order by giving refuge to an American trespasser, John William Yettaw, and faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment if convicted.

Suu Kyi told her lawyers on the final day of the trial that the proceedings would show “whether or not the rule of law exists in the country.” The sad fact, however, is that Suu Kyi is fighting a losing battle in a country where the basic rule of law is not respected.

Analysts say the trial is politically motivated and is an attempt to exclude Suu Kyi from future politics and the 2010 election.

It is certain that the regime plans to hand out punishment to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and perhaps drag the court proceedings out still further.

High-ranking US officials recently said that Suu Kyi’s trial has complicated the Obama administration’s policy review on Burma. It is increasingly obvious that it’s a wrong strategy to tie the trial to a policy review and to a decision on whether to increase or renew sanctions on Burma.

Last week, at the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phuket, Thailand, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made contradictory statements on Burma. She had earlier said that Burma’s relationship with North Korea would destabilize the region, and she offered incentives to the regime.

Clinton also said that if Suu Kyi were released, “this would open up doors for investment and for other exchanges that would help the people of Burma.”

It is naïve to expect that the regime would exchange Suu Kyi’s freedom in return for cash and investment. The regime leaders won’t compromise and such a deal is far from their thoughts.

It is safe to assume that the regime leaders are quite confident that they can weather the international pressure with the support of such friends as China.

According to a recent report from Burma’s Ministry of National Planning and Development, foreign investment jumped from $172.7m in the 2007- 2008 fiscal year to a current peak of $984.9m. The ministry said China accounted for 87 per cent of total investments—mainly in energy and natural resources.

With this level of Chinese support, Burmese rulers and their armed forces are assured of the financial and political backing to continue their crimes in the ethnic regions for decades to come. The oppressed people of Burma will continue to live in extreme poverty.

The regime’s ultimate goal is to remain in power as long as it can. Suu Kyi poses a real threat to the Than Shwe’s road map and his grip on power—and so do more than 2,000 political prisoners held by his regime.

Secretary of State Clinton should have learnt from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier delivered a firm message to the generals, telling them to free Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, to make the road map inclusive, to work for national reconciliation and to ensure that the 2010 election is credible.

Clinton and Ban were each acting as temporary negotiators in Burma’s hostage drama, where the Burmese feel themselves prisoners in their own country. Clinton’s message, however, failed to strike the correct tone.

READ MORE---> Clinton’s Flawed Burma Message...

Cultural Traits are Blocking Progress in Burma

The Irrawaddy

As a journalist, I have travelled widely in Burma. One aspect of Burmese culture never stops to surprise me: the extreme amount of respect the elderly receive. Of course we need to respect our elders. But the Burmese go far beyond what I as a European consider to be normal.

Once when I had dinner at the house of my Burmese friends in Rangoon we were having a serious discussion. When the father of the family—a man over 80 years old who’d just suffered a severe stroke—came downstairs to join us, the discussion changed dramatically. He spoke; my Burmese friends listened. Even though his understanding of the subject was very limited he dominated the conversation. My friends agreed with his every word, out of respect and because they were brought up not to disagree openly with a senior.

I encountered the same phenomenon when I was teaching a Burmese friend how to use the Internet and send e-mails. After that, he referred to me as “his teacher.” He told me that because I was five years older and I had taught him something, he needed to show me a lot of respect. In practice this went quite far. In discussions, he was always bending my way and he acted very subservient. It made me feel quite uncomfortable. In the West we are taught everybody is equal.

In Burmese politics, the emphasis on age is a problem not to be underestimated. Everybody knows that people grow more conservative and often more scared when they age. They are less willing to consider change, and they are less flexible and less dynamic. Nevertheless, in Burma, the military leadership and the executive committees of the main opposition parties are almost completely made up of elderly people, some over 80 years old who would not even consider stepping down to make way for fresh leadership.

In the National League for Democracy this has led to a lot of frustration among younger politicians, who feel the old leaders are not doing enough to force change. There is no denying—age has become a factor slowing down progress and change.

Age is not the only factor, though.

Another typically Burmese problem is the way power is perceived. Burmese traditionally think about power in a highly personalized way. Power is vested in one ruler: he who rules all—be it the kings of the three dynasties, the father of modern Burma, Aung San, dictator Ne Win or Aung San Suu Kyi. Historically, this “Great Leader” is the role model that most Burmese politicians base themselves on.

This becomes a serious problem when another factor comes in to play: Buddhism. The mainstay religion in Burmese culture not only teaches non-violence—a way of life that is of little use when trying to overcome a bunch of generals clinging to their guns—but it also teaches people that this earthly existence is just one of many lives.

The form you reincarnate into depends on the merit you collected during earlier lives. Thinking along these lines, it is easy to believe that rulers, however bad they may be, were awarded their high positions because of their merits in earlier incarnations. A true Buddhist shouldn’t resist. The generals shrewdly take advantage of this misconception by affiliating themselves closely with Buddhism. They build pagodas, offer donations to monks and take part in religious ceremonies.

Of course, cultural factors like these are not the only reasons for the lack of progress in Burma over the past 47 years. The Machiavellian mindset of the generals is another factor, as is the fact that the generals fear what will happen to them if they hand over power. They could end up in jail, or worse.

To me, it is sadly all too clear that the teachings of the Buddha, the tradition of personalized power, and the emphasis on age together make up a tragic cocktail hampering progress in Burma. And with that culture being a slowly evolving phenomenon, there is little we can do about it.

Adam Selene is journalist based in Bangkok

READ MORE---> Cultural Traits are Blocking Progress in Burma...

Junta faces mounting pressure as Aung San Suu Kyi awaits fate

by Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - The special court in the notorious Insein prison will pronounce the verdict on the trial of Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday as international pressure on the junta mounts to release her.

On Monday night in the Irish capital of Dublin, Bono lead singer of the famous British rock band U2, announced that Aung San Suu Kyi had been awarded Amnesty International's most prestigious honour – she had been made the organization’s “Ambassador of Conscience” for 2009.

“As powerful a voice and as strong a leader in these times, as Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were in theirs... is Aung San Suu Ky,” he told some 80,000 cheering fans, as the band played 'Walk On' -- a track written especially for Aung San Suu Kyi in 2001. Every night during the rest of the group’s current on the 360 tour, U2 plans to highlight her plight during their performances and play 'Walk On'.

U2 has been a long-time campaigner on Aung San Suu Kyi’s behalf. Their lead singer, Bono has been associated with many human rights causes in the past, and the group was previously awarded the title, which was introduced by Amnesty six years ago. Past winners of the award include Vaclav Havel (former Czech president and political prisoner), Nelson Mandela (former South African leader and political prisoner) and the former Irish president and head of the UN’s human rights body, Mary Robinson.

It was inspired by a poem written for Amnesty International by the Nobel Laureate for Literature Seamus Heaney, the award aims to promote the organisation through the life, work and example of its 'Ambassadors'.

Amnesty International’s award and U2’s renewed campaign comes at time when the pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate faces a further term in detention. She has been charged with flouting the conditions of her house arrest, when she gave food and shelter to an uninvited and unwanted visitor, an American Vietnam war veteran, John William Yettaw who swam across the lake behind her residence to get entry to her compound.

While the trial has been anything but free, Amnesty insists the real issue is she should never have been arrested in the first place – not have ever been in detention. “It is not a question of whether the proceedings are fair or not, she should never have gone on trial in the first place – it’s a form of political and legal theatre,” Amnesty’s Bangkok-based Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki said in an interview with Mizzima. “As a prisoner of conscience she should be released immediately.”

Amnesty International’s campaign for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi has been endorsed by hundreds of the world’s political leaders, human rights advocates, writers and entertainment personalities. One of those who have joined the campaign is the former UN human rights rapporteur for Burma, Professor Paulo Pinheiro. “These current charges are a complete and crude fabrication, a pretext to keep Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for as long as possible,” he recently told Mizzima.

Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. Her latest detention began in May 2003, after she and her supporters were attacked by pro-junta thugs while travelling in central Burma. She was first arrested in July 1989 and spent six years under house until she was released in 1995.

For the past five years she has been in virtual solitary confinement, being allowed only very occasional visits by her doctor and lawyer. The UN’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari has been able to see her six times in the past few years, but the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not permitted to see her during his two-day visit to the country earlier this month.

“It is appropriate that she should be given this award [Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience] almost 20 years since she began her long fight for human rights in Myanmar,” said Benjamin Zawacki. “Twenty years on and still in detention, she remains a beacon of hope for all Burmese people and the world as a whole,” he added.

As Bono poignantly pointed out as he accepted the award on Aung San Suu Kyi’s behalf earlier this week: “She has been under house arrest in her native Burma for most of the last 20 years.

Her crime is that if she was to participate in elections she would win.”

Within a matter of few days now, Aung San Suu Kyi will know her fate. "We are confident that we will win the case if things go according to the law,” her defence lawyer Nyan Win told reporters outside the court on Tuesday.

But of course in Burma the courts are not free of government interference, and it will certainly be political considerations which determine her future.

However few people – inside Burma and abroad -- believe there will any other verdict than guilty. “The trial has been entirely scripted and the end already decided before-hand,” the British Ambassador in Rangoon, Mark Canning told Mizzima after a rare occasion when he was allowed to attend the court hearing. Public sentiment echoes that of the diplomats.

“No one is in any doubt about the outcome,” said Moe Moe, a taxi driver in the country’s main commercial city. “Those men in green in Naypitdaw [the new capital some 400 kilometres north of Rangoon] know she is the peoples’ hero and the real leader of this country,” he added.

While international pressure is set to mount if she is found guilty, it is unlikely to have any impact on the top generals. “They have completely ignored all international concerns – and gone on with their devastating, shattering repression of all dissent – with extremely heavy sentences being handed down for the crimes of democratic protest,” said Mr Pinheiro.

Nevertheless Aung San Suu Kyi remains Burma’s beacon of hope for the future. And the international campaign supporting her and the democratic cause in Burma will continue to remind the junta, that while they may lock her up, try to silence her and prevent her from seeing visitors, the Burmese people and the world as a whole will not forget her and her heroic efforts on behalf of Burma’s fight for democracy and human rights. We are proud to announce … that Amnesty International has chosen Aung San Suu Kyi as the recipient of their Ambassador of Conscience Award 2009. Thank God for Amnesty International,” said Bono. “May God keep Aung Sang Suu Kyi safe.”

READ MORE---> Junta faces mounting pressure as Aung San Suu Kyi awaits fate...

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