Suu Kyi made to wait for trial verdict amid legal wrangling

Author: By Aung Hla Tin in Rangoon

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent 14 of the past 20 years
in detention, is charged under Section 22 of a law protecting the state from “subversive
elements”. A guilty verdict was widely expected yesterday. “The
judge adjourned the trial until 11 August. He didn’t elaborate on the reason
why,” said Nyan Win, a lawyer for the veteran pro-democracy leader. A
diplomatic source who attended the proceedings said the verdict was delayed “because
of the need to interpret legal terms relating to the 1974 constitution”.
The charges stem from a bizarre incident in May, when an American intruder,
John Yettaw, swam across Lake Inya to Ms Suu Kyi’s home, where he stayed
uninvited for two days.

Prosecutors said this breached the terms of her house arrest. Mr Yettaw told
the court in May that he was “sent by God” to warn Ms Suu Kyi she
was going to be assassinated. Mr Win said Ms Suu Kyi was cheerful during
yesterday’s brief court session and told him the adjournment was “typical”.

Benjamin Zawacki, a Burma specialist at the human rights group Amnesty
International, said the repeated adjournments were orchestrated by Burma’s
ruling military junta to make the court appear fair and impartial. “It
is very suspicious, since most courts wouldn’t take this long,” he
said. “We knew the verdict was decided long ago. This is clearly
political and not legal.”

A Western diplomat in Rangoon said the junta could be stalling as a result of
international condemnation of the trial. “The regime wants to take its
time because of the mounting pressure it is under,” the diplomat said. “They
are being attacked from all fronts and they have a lot of things to consider.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s legal team has argued that she should be acquitted because the
law she is charged under was part of the 1974 constitution, which is no
longer in use. The prosecution, however, says the charges are relevant
because the 1974 constitution was still in force when Ms Suu Kyi’s latest
period of house arrest commenced in 2003.

The courts routinely favour the junta, which has ruled Burma with an iron hand
since a 1962 coup. Verdicts were also postponed for Mr Yettaw and two women
who live with Ms Suu Kyi and who face charges similar to hers. Ms Suu Kyi
faces five years in prison if found guilty. Mr Yettaw is charged with
immigration offences and for the municipal violation of swimming in a
non-swimming area.

Burma could improve ties with America, which has long imposed sanctions on the
country, if it released Ms Suu Kyi, the US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said at a regional security forum in Thailand last month.

But neither Western sanctions nor a strategy of engagement by Burma’s
neighbours in South-east Asia has achieved much over the years. Burma
occupies a strategic place between the Asian powers India and China and both
have been reluctant to apply pressure on the generals.

Opponents of Burma’s military government say the trial is an attempt to keep
Ms Suu Kyi in detention before and during elections next year, which they
say will be a sham intended to legitimise the regime.

Dr Maung Zarni: Burmese leadership’s mad behaviour betrays its fear

Comment

It was billed as the climax of this farcical trial. The media was there,
foreign diplomats had come from as far away as Bangkok. They left the
madhouse, baffled.

True to form, Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe pulled off a surprise move from
the handbook of psycho-warfare. Emotions had been built up, so the man
deflates them. The excuse, according to a diplomat who quoted the judge, was
that more time was needed to interpret the 1974 constitution. Even taken at
face value, this means that men with depraved minds reign in Burma.

Since when have military generals tried to resurrect constitutions which they
themselves abolished when they usurped power? Their desire to hold on to
power is so great that being seen to behave madly is a small price to pay.

Even the 1974 constitution adopted under the one-party dictatorship of General
Ne Win with “91 per cent of popular votes” was not worth the paper
on which it was written. The 2008 constitution pushed through over the
bodies of 140,000 Burmese who died in last year’s cyclone has not come into
force yet.

The real reason for yesterday’s decision may be that 8.8.88, the 21st
anniversary of the popular uprising which toppled Ne Win’s corrupt,
incompetent dictatorial rule but failed to seize power and install a new
government, is around the corner. Generally, anniversaries make these men
sleep in their bunkers and war-rooms.

The only thing that needs to be interpreted in Burma is Than Shwe’s words and
whims. Astrologers, occultists and fortune-tellers, of course, already do
it, for handsome fees and access to power.

The leadership’s mad behaviour betrays its fear. They have guns, but they are
cowards, with neither the balls to face either the world or the public in
whose name they justify their madness. But why are they so scared of Aung
San Suu Kyi, a 64-year old, harmless widow?

Change will come to Burma, for better or worse but the road is going to be a
long and painful one.

The writer is the founder of the Free Burma Coalition and a visiting Fellow
on Burma at the LSE

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