Myanmar’s Suu Kyi faces prison trial, West outraged

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi faces prison trial, West outraged
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First Published: Mon, May 18 2009. 10 30 AM IST

An anti-Myanmar government activist holds a poster showing Aung San Suu Kyi, as he and others gather for a demonstration on Monday. AP
An anti-Myanmar government activist holds a poster showing Aung San Suu Kyi, as he and others gather for a demonstration on Monday. AP
Updated: Mon, May 18 2009. 10 30 AM IST
Yangon: Police clamped tight security on Myanmar’s Insein Central Prison on Monday where opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces trial on charges that could jail the Nobel Peace laureate for up to five years.
The military regime has ignored international outrage at what outside groups call trumped up charges against Suu Kyi, accused of breaking the conditions of her house arrest set to expire on 27 May after six years of detention.
Armed police manned barricades on the road outside the prison in Yangon, where dissidents have called for “silent rallies” until Suu Kyi is freed. The area was calm early on Monday.
An anti-Myanmar government activist holds a poster showing Aung San Suu Kyi, as he and others gather for a demonstration on Monday. AP
Former student demonstrators and monks involved in 2007 street protests crushed by the military said in a joint statement they will “oppose this latest atrocity using any means until Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is freed”.
John Yettaw, the American intruder who triggered the case against Suu Kyi and her two female companions by sneaking into her lakeside villa in Yangon, is also expected to stand trial on several charges.
If convicted, Suu Kyi faces 3 to 5 years in jail.
Her lawyer, Kyi Win, said the 63-year-old was “quite well” after being treated for low blood pressure and dehydration before she was charged last Thursday.
“She is ready to tell the truth that she never broke the law,” he said after being allowed to meet Suu Kyi for one hour at her prison guest house on Saturday.
SILENCE DISSENT
Critics say the charges are aimed at keeping the charismatic opposition leader in detention ahead of the regime’s promised multi-party elections in 2010.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962.
“The trial is all about keeping any voices of dissent silent in the run-up to rigged elections next year,” said Zoya Phan of the Burma Campaign UK, which said demonstrations would be held at Myanmar embassies in 20 cities around the world on Monday.
The generals have detained Suu Kyi for more than 13 of the past 19 years, much of that time at her Yangon home guarded by police, with her phone line cut and visitors restricted.
Yettaw, a US citizen who used homemade flippers to swim to Suu Kyi’s home, has been charged with immigration violations, encouraging others to break the law and entering a restricted area.
The motives for his latest bid to meet Suu Kyi are unclear.
Yettaw swam to her home on 30 November last year and left a copy of the Book of Mormon after she refused to see him, according to a copy of the police complaint translated by the US Campaign for Burma, a pro-democracy group.
He tried again on the night of 3 May.
“This time, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi allowed him to stay at her residence until the night of 5 May 2009, spoke with him and provided him food and drinks,” the police complaint said.
Kyi Win said Suu Kyi had told Yettaw to leave, but he refused. She did not report him to authorities because “she did not want anybody to get into trouble because of her”, he said.
Western governments, the United Nations, human rights groups and fellow Nobel laureates have condemned the charges against Suu Kyi and called for her immediate release.
The regime has ignored the outcry and state-controlled media has said nothing about the trial.
US President Barack Obama on Friday renewed sanctions against the military government, saying its actions and policies, including the jailing of more than 2,000 political prisoners, continued to pose a serious threat to US interests.
The reaction from Asian neighbours, with an eye on Myanmar’s rich timber, gas and mineral reserves, has been more subdued.
Over the years they have favoured a policy of engagement, but neither it nor sanctions have coaxed meaningful reforms from junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, widely believed to loathe Suu Kyi.
He is pressing ahead with a seven-step “roadmap to democracy” expected to culminate in a 2010 election the West says is a sham to entrench the military’s grip on the country.
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First Published: Mon, May 18 2009. 10 30 AM IST