Aung San Suu Kyi Found Guilty of Breaking House Arrest

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Aung San Suu Kyi Found Guilty of Breaking House Arrest

Burma court imposes three-year sentence, cut to 18 months • Military junta says she can serve term in Rangoon home • Ruling condemned as political move ahead of elections

by
Justin McCurry

Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was initially sentenced to three years' detention. (Photograph: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/EPA)

Aung San Suu Kyi
will spent the next year and a half under guard at her home in Rangoon
after a court today found her guilty of breaking the terms of her house
arrest. Her sentence means she will play no part in elections the junta
has promised to hold early next year.

The 64-year-old learned her
fate in a few minutes of courtroom drama, witnessed by journalists and
diplomats from the same countries that have been calling for her
immediate and unconditional release.

Although her sentence falls
some way short of the maximum five years available to the court, news
that the Nobel peace laureate had again been denied her freedom drew
immediate condemnation from around the world.

Gordon Brown said he was "saddened and angry" at the conviction.

The prime minister said the sentence was "further proof that the military regime in Burma
was determined to act with total disregard for accepted standards of
the rule of law and in defiance of international opinion. This is a
purely political sentence designed to prevent her from taking part in
the regime's planned elections next year."

He said as long as the
opposition leader and other detained opponents were prevented from
taking part in the political process, the elections "will have no
credibility or legitimacy".

"The facade of her prosecution is
made more monstrous because its real objective is to sever her bond
with the people for whom she is a beacon of hope and resistance."

Shortly
after the court sentenced her to three years' hard labour, the home
minister walked into the courtroom and announced that the junta leader,
Senior General Than Shwe, had halved the sentence and would allow Aung
San Suu Kyi to serve it in her Rangoon home.

Than Shwe said he
had reduced the sentence to "maintain peace and tranquility" and
because Aung San Suu Kyi was the daughter of Aung San, a revered hero
who won Burma's independence from Britain in 1948.

Aung San Suu
Kyi had been accused of harbouring John Yettaw, an American who swam,
uninvited, to her lakeside compound in early May.

Yettaw, a
53-year-old from Missouri described as an eccentric by his family,
spent two nights at Aung San Suu Kyi's home in early May. He had
visited her, he said, to warn her of a dream in which he had foreseen
her assassination.

The opposition leader, who has spent 14 of the
last 20 years in detention, pleaded with Yettaw to leave but relented
after he said he was too ill to swim back across the lake.

Yettaw
was given a seven-year jail sentence, including four years of hard
labour, after the court found him guilty of abetting the violation of
the house arrest order and two other offences.

Local reports said
Yettaw's sentence consisted of three years in prison for breaching Aung
San Suu Kyi's house arrest, three years with hard labour for violating
immigration laws, and another year with hard labour for swimming in a
restricted zone. It was not immediately clear if he would serve the
terms concurrently.

The junta's order reduced the sentences of two women who lived with Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months' house arrest each.

Observers
had expected a guilty verdict at the end of a trial that drew
condemnation not only from the US, Britain and the UN, but from some of
Burma's neighbours, which have traditionally been reluctant to
interfere in the country's politics.

Malaysia's foreign minister,
Anifah Aman, called for an "urgent meeting" of members of the
Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

"I think there
is a need for Asean foreign ministers to have an urgent meeting to
discuss this issue, which is of grave concern," he told Agence
France-Presse in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

"With this
sentence there is no possibility for Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in
the general election next year which should be free, fair and
inclusive."

Opponents of the Burmese junta, which has ruled with
an iron fist since 1962, say Yettaw's stunt has been exploited to keep
Aung San Suu Kyi out of the public eye during the elections expected
next year.

As leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD)
party, she represents the most serious threat to the generals' hold on
power. The NLD won an overwhelming victory in the last elections in
1990, but the junta refused to accept the result. Almost two decades
later, more than 2,000 opponents of the junta remain in Burmese prisons.

There
were no immediate reports of unrest outside Insein prison, where the
defendants have been held since the trial began, despite speculation
that a guilty verdict might spark protests by NLD members.

After
the ruling was postponed at the end of last month, there were fears
Aung San Suu Kyi would be forced to wait again when Yettaw was taken to
hospital last week after suffering epileptic convulsions. He is also
thought to suffer from diabetes and a heart complaint.

The court
decision to allow several journalists and diplomats to witness the
verdict came as a surprise. It was only the third time outside
observers had been permitted to attend the trial since it began on 18
May.

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