Opposition Leader Rejects Charges

Burma's opposition leader, on trial for breaking the terms of her house arrest, has denied any wrongdoing, amid an international outcry over her prosecution.
2009-05-14
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Lawyers Kyi Win (L) and Nyan Win (R) in front of Insein Prison in Rangoon, May 14, 2009.
Lawyers Kyi Win (L) and Nyan Win (R) in front of Insein Prison in Rangoon, May 14, 2009.
RFA

BANGKOK—Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected claims by Burma’s military regime that she violated the terms of her house arrest when an American man swam across a lake and entered her home, her lawyer said.

Attorney Kyi Win said he met with the Nobel laureate after her first appearance in court May 13 at Insein Prison in Rangoon.

“We are well aware of what is prohibited in relation to the charge she is accused of. She is not allowed to contact embassies, political parties, or the people who are connected to the political parties, and she said she did not break any of these conditions,” Kyi Win said.

When asked if he thought the charges were related to Aung San Suu Kyi’s anticipated release from house arrest, scheduled for May 27, Kyi Win said he did not plan to include the issue in his defense.

“The charge is that she broke the conditions that she was under, and we will concentrate on this [instead]. We will keep the two issues separate,” the attorney said.

But Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy, issued a statement expressing outrage at what they called a “planned” effort to bring charges against their leader ahead of her scheduled release from house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, whose party won 1990 elections but was denied power by Burma’s military, which has ruled Burma for more than four decades, has been detained for more than 13 of the past 19 years—mostly incommunicado at her lakeside compound.

Swimming incident

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

John William Yettaw, a 53-year-old American man, was arrested May 6 as he swam back from Aung San Suu Kyi’s home after spending two days there.

Kyi Win said Aung San Suu Kyi did not deny seeing Yettaw, but said she had demanded he leave, which he refused to do.

“She said, ‘I demanded that he go,” but he responded that he was too tired to swim back. He said he had a leg cramp. Aung San Suu Kyi said she felt sorry for him and that she couldn’t bear the thought of another person being arrested because of her,” the attorney said.

Yettaw stayed in a downstairs room during the two days and was then asked to leave, whereupon he was taken into custody. Aung San Suu Kyi was taken to Insein Prison on May 13, where she currently remains.

Kyi Win said that Aung San Suu Kyi was present at the first hearing of the trial, but that the two judges assigned to the case only questioned Yettaw through a translator.

The trial will resume on May 18 when Kyi Win will begin his defense of Aung San Suu Kyi and the judges will hear testimony from over 20 witnesses.

Condemnation of charges

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday she was deeply troubled by the Burmese government’s decision to charge Aung San Suu Kyi for what she described as a “baseless crime.”

“It comes just before the six-year anniversary of her house arrest. And it is not in keeping with the rule of law, the ASEAN Charter, or efforts to promote national reconciliation and progress in Burma,” Clinton said.

“We oppose the regime’s efforts to use this incident as a pretext to place further unjustified restrictions on her,” she said.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana, expressed “serious concern” over Aung San Suu Kyi’s “unlawful detention.”

“Her house is well guarded by security forces, so the responsibility for preventing such intrusions and alerting the authorities lies with the security forces and not with Aung San Suu Kyi,” Quintana said.

“I call on the government of Burma to release her immediately and, of course, to start releasing the 2,100 political prisoners of conscience in the country.”

The United Nations released a statement by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saying he was gravely concerned about news that Aung San Suu Kyi had been moved to Insein Prison to face criminal charges.

“The Secretary-General believes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is an essential partner for dialogue in Myanmar’s [Burma’s] national reconciliation and calls on the Government not to take any further action that could undermine this important process,” the statement said.

The statement went on to say that Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners must be free “to ensure that the political process is credible.”

2010 elections

The junta has announced 2010 general elections under what it calls a "roadmap to democracy," but critics have denounced the vote as a sham designed to solidify military rule.

Authorities announced last year that Aung San Suu Kyi was barred from running for a legislative seat in the upcoming polls.

Original reporting by Ingjin Naing and Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translation by Khin May Zaw. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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