Prison Looms for Aung San Suu Kyi as Burma Show Trial Draws to a Close
The Burmese democracy leader Aung
San Suu Kyi is facing an almost certain criminal conviction and a
sentence of up to five years in prison when a Rangoon court delivers
its verdict at the end of this week, her defence team said yesterday.
Wrapping up her two-and-a-half-month trial, Ms Suu Kyi's lawyers
gave their reply to the prosecution's final arguments in a court in
Insein prison, Rangoon. She is accused of violating the terms of her
lengthy house arrest by giving shelter to an eccentric American who
entered the lakeside home where she has spent 14 of the past 20 years
Speaking softly, Ms Suu Kyi stood and turned to diplomats attending
the hearing and said: "I'm afraid the verdict will be painfully
"She thanked us for trying to promote a just outcome," said an Asian
diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. Only diplomats from the
US, Japan, Singapore and Thailand were allowed to attend the last day
of the trial.
Her lawyers held out little hope of an acquittal when the verdict is
delivered. "We have a good chance according to the law but we cannot
know what the court will decide because this is a political case," said
Nyan Win, a lawyer for Ms Suu Kyi and the spokesman for her party, the
National League for Democracy. "I have never seen any defendant in a
political case being set free. We have done our best and she is
prepared for the worst."
Ms Suu Kyi and two of her companions have been on trial since May
for giving shelter to John Yettaw, who swam uninvited to her heavily
guarded home in central Rangoon. She says that she did nothing wrong in
giving food and shelter to Mr Yettaw, and that she refrained from
handing him over to the authorities to avoid bringing trouble on him
and on the police who were supposed to have been guarding her house.
Many critics of Burma's military dictatorship accuse it of using the
bizarre incident as a pretext for continuing to deprive her of her
freedom until after the elections that it is promising to hold next
year. Her lawyers argue that, even according to its own regulations, Ms
Suu Kyi's house arrest was due to expire this year.
The defence lost its attempt to put a Foreign Ministry official on
trial after the court said that his testimony was "not important". All
but two witnesses summoned by the defence had been rejected. But the
generals may have misjudged the strength of international sympathy
provoked by the case. Even Burma's neighbours in the Association of
South-East Asian Nations, who generally avoid any criticism of one
another's internal affairs, expressed dismay at the trial. Yesterday
the junta postponed a visit to Burma by Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai
Prime Minister, who was especially critical of the regime, apparently
because the trip coincided with Friday's verdict on Ms Suu Kyi.
Burma's senior general, Than Shwe, has shown no sign of relenting to
the pressure. When Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, visited the
regime's isolated new capital, Naypyidaw, early this month, he suffered
the humiliation of being refused the opportunity to meet Ms Suu Kyi.
The state media, which are firmly under the control of the
Government, have rejected criticisms of the trial. "Suu Kyi is not a
political prisoner but the person who is on trial for breaching an
existing law," the New Light of Myanmar said in an editorial
last week. "Demanding release of Daw Suu Kyi means showing reckless
disregard for the law. The court will hand down a reasonable term to
her if she is found guilty, and it will release her if she is found not
Given this intransigence, and the regime's record of locking up
political prisoners, more than 2,000 of whom are in detention, it seems
unlikely that she will be acquitted. Diplomats in Rangoon speculate
that she may eventually be pardoned by General Than Shwe in an attempt
to appear magnanimous. Even if she is released from jail, it will be to
the continuing confinement of house arrest.
A diplomat present in the court last week said that Ms Suu Kyi
appeared healthy during the three-hour hearing. "She was joking with
her defence team and smiling," the diplomat said. "She was 100 per cent
engaged with what was going on, ramrod-straight, and resplendent in a
Mr Yettaw has been charged with immigration violations and with
swimming in an unauthorised place, as well as with abetting Ms Suu Kyi
in violating the terms of her house arrest. Like her, he could be
sentenced to five years in jail if convicted, along with Ms Suu Kyi's
two female companions.