Aung San Suu Kyi Faces Military Trial
Photo from Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
(NOTE: I am really outraged by what the junta gets away with in Burma. When will public outrage kick in? Maybe if Aung San Suu Kyi is put in prison. I added bold to the text in the article to emphasize a few points.)
New York Times - May 15, 2009
Burmese Democracy Advocate Faces Military Trial
By THOMAS FULLER and SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK — Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was charged Thursday with violating the terms of her house arrest in a move that could tighten the grip of the military junta over its chief opponent in advance of an election next year.
Her arrest grew out of a bizarre event in which an American man swam across a lake and spent at least one night on the grounds of her home, where she has been confined for 13 of the past 19 years. She is now being held in Insein Prison near Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, her lawyer said.
The motives of the man, identified as John William Yettaw, 53, were unclear. But Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer said the man told her he was a Mormon and prayed extensively while he was in her house.
The official government newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, said Mr. Yettaw was born in Detroit and lived in Falcon, Missouri. It identified him as a clinical psychology student, and said he had been a military serviceman for two years. The Thailand-based opposition magazine, Irrawaddy, said he had met with Myanmar exile groups in Thailand and told them he was working on a faith-based book on heroism.
Mr. Yettaw is now being held by Burmese authorities and was charged Thursday with illegally entering a restricted zone, which carries a maximum penalty of five years, and breaking immigration laws, which carries a maximum one-year penalty, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer said.
She had not invited the man and had told him to leave, her lawyer added, but ultimately she allowed him to stay after he complained of exhaustion and cramping.
Her arrest occurred only two weeks before the statutory expiration of her most recent six-year detention, and many analysts saw it as a legal ploy to allow the junta to extend her confinement.
The charge against her carries a sentence of up to five years and raises the possibility that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, who has been reported to be in fragile health, would face lengthy incarceration under much harsher conditions at Insein, where hundreds of other political prisoners are believed to be held.
“It is ridiculously obvious that they are trying to put her away from any involvement in the upcoming election,” said Soe Aung, who represents the Bangkok-based Forum for Democracy in Burma, a coalition of exile groups from Myanmar, formerly Burma.
Western nations, including the United States, are reviewing a confrontational policy of economic sanctions and political exclusion toward the junta, which has jailed its opponents, crushed pro-democracy uprisings and clung to power through force for the past two decades.
The harsh treatment of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most prominent opposition figure and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, may give pause to those who advocate more humanitarian aid and engagement with the junta, said Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst based in Thailand.
The release of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a primary demand of the United Nations and of Western nations. Her treatment now “would send a serious signal to the international community, especially the West, that the Burmese military is not ready to be engaged,” he said.
The junta is preparing for an election next year that would be its first multi-party poll since 1990, when Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming victory but was denied power by the military, which has ruled since 1962.
The coming election, part of what the junta calls a “twelve-step road to democracy,” would put in place a mostly civilian government in a power structure that maintains the dominance of the military.
Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers had been preparing to demand her release after six years of detention,“and then this chap comes swimming along,” her lawyer, U Kyi Win, said.
The lawyer said Mr. Yettaw had swum to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s house once before, last November, and had left “a little Bible” for her. Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi is a Buddhist.
Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained and charged together with two companions, Daw Khin Khin Win and her daughter Win Ma Ma, who have lived with her since she was last detained in 2003. Her lawyer said that she was being held separately from the general prison population. It was unclear whether her companions were being held with her.
Her lawyer, Mr. Kyi Win, speaking by telephone from Yangon, said that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi had not violated the conditions of her house arrest because Mr. Yettaw was an intruder, not a guest. He said the American had slipped past security forces guarding the compound.
When he swam up to the house with the help of improvised flotation devices — large, empty plastic containers — Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi considered turning him in to the police.
“She was about to report it to the security guards outside,” Mr. Kyi Win said. “But he begged and said he would go away soon. She had some pity for the chap.”
U Han Thar Myint, a prominent member of the National League for Democracy, said, “There must be some ulterior motive behind this. They think that she could disrupt the election process. They want her to be inside her own compound or prison.”
Most of the members of the National League for Democracy have decided not to take part in the elections, but the party has not reached an official decision, Mr. Han Thar Myint said.
However, at a recent party meeting, members took a conciliatory tone toward the government, saying it was prepared for discussions without preconditions.
A consular officer from the United States Embassy in Yangon met with Mr. Yettaw on Wednesday for half an hour in the presence of many police and intelligence officers.
“He would not go into any details about his stay in the house,” said Richard Mei, a spokesman for the embassy.
Sharon Otterman contributed reporting from New York.Link