Opposition Leader's Trial Under Way

The trial has begun for a pro-democracy leader in Burma accused of violating the terms of her house arrest, amid calls for her release by local activists and global leaders.
2009-05-18
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Outside-DASSK-Trial-305.jpg
Soldiers stand guard in front of Insein prison in Rangoon, May 18, 2009.
AFP

RANGOON—Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has gone on trial for violating the terms of her house arrest, with hundreds of police officers and soldiers blocking protesters outside, according to witnesses.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, would have been eligible for release on May 27, after six years of detention. She now faces charges triggered by a U.S. man who sneaked into her lakeside home earlier this month.

The American man, John Yettaw, is also on trial.

Yettaw, who may have had religious reasons for his visit to Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, swam across Inya lake in central Rangoon and sneaked into the compound at night.

Aung San Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by accepting a foreigner into her home, where she spoke to him and gave him food, her lawyer said.

Junta officials rejected requests for an open trial, citing security concerns.

Witnesses said as many as 2,000 people gathered outside the prison at 9 a.m. and remained there until the proceedings ended around 2 p.m.

Kyi Win, Aung San Suu Ky’s lawyer, said the U.S. Embassy sent several cars to the trial, “but they were unable to get in. Only one representative from the U.S. Embassy could get into the court for John Yettaw.”

A U.S. Embassy official confirmed that one embassy official was present.

Call for support

Suu-Kyi-305.jpg
Aung San Suu Kyi during a meeting with Burma’s labor minister, Jan. 30, 2008.


U Pyinya Wuntha of the All Burma Monks Association, which led a nationwide uprising known as the Saffron Revolution in 2007, called for turnout at the trial to show support for Aung San Suu Kyi.

“This is an act by the junta to remove Aung San Suu Kyi to make way for their [state-controlled] 2010 election, and they will do so by all means,” he said by telephone from Rangoon.

“I would like to urge all monks, students, and citizens of Burma to help Aung San Suu Kyi and go to every trial that takes place to show support until we reach our goal of democracy.”

Phyu Phyu Thin, an AIDS activist, said he joined a group of protesters in front of Insein Prison, where the trial is being held.

“This is the first time that not only political activists but ordinary citizens also have gathered in a mass in front of the prison, because all are worried,” he said. “People are distributing water and food among the crowd and waiting peacefully for any information about her, from the lawyers.”

A former student activist who asked not to be named said he saw this trial swaying some moderate Burmese against the junta.

“The people who wish to stand in the middle, between the junta and the pro-democracy side, are embarrassed by the trial,” he said.

Charges condemned

The United Nations and Western governments have condemned the trial.

Washington, which had been reviewing a hard-line policy of economic sanctions, last week said the sanctions would remain in force for another year. The European Union has meanwhile ruled out easing sanctions of its own.

Original reporting by Tin Aung Khine, Nay Rein Kyaw, and Zaw Moe Kyaw for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Richard Finney.