Fri 31 Jul 2009
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
A Myanmar court Friday postponed its verdict in the case of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi until August 11, officials and diplomats said, the latest delay in her internationally condemned trial.
The Nobel peace laureate faces up to five years in jail if convicted on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest following an incident in which an American man swam across a lake to her heavily secured villa in May.
Critics have accused Myanmar’s iron-fisted generals of using the intrusion to Suu Kyi’s house by US national John Yettaw as an excuse to keep the opposition leader locked up during elections that are due in 2010.
“The court said they have to consider legal problems, that’s why they said they will give the verdict on August 11,” her lawyer Nyan Win told AFP after the brief hearing at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison.
“We are not surprised. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was also not surprised,” said Nyan Win, who is also the spokesman for her National League for Democracy. Daw is a term of respect in the Burmese language.
Diplomats and Myanmar officials also confirmed the delay in the case.
“The reason the judges gave is that they have to review the case again,” said a foreign diplomat who attended the hearing.
Riot police surrounded the prison on Friday and police trucks patrolled the city following warnings in the junta-controlled state media that protests would not be tolerated.
The judges had said earlier this week that they would give their verdict on Friday following a two-and-a-half-month trial that has unleashed a storm of international outrage against Myanmar’s military regime.
Diplomats from all foreign missions in Yangon were allowed into the trial, Western diplomatic sources and Myanmar officials said.
Observers and diplomats have widely predicted a guilty verdict but there has been speculation that the junta might bow slightly to foreign pressure and give a lesser prison sentence or even return her to house arrest.
Washington, which like the European Union has imposed sanctions against the Myanmar regime, demanded Suu Kyi’s release late Thursday.
“We believe that she should be immediately and unconditionally released, along with the 2,100 other political prisoners in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, using Myanmar’s former name.
Verdicts had also been expected Friday in the cases of Yettaw and of Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, two female aides who were living with Suu Kyi at the lakeside property when the American arrived there in the dead of night.
Yettaw, 53, from Falcon, Missouri, faces charges of abetting Suu Kyi’s breach of security laws, immigration violations and a municipal charge of illegal swimming. All three also face up to five years in prison.
Myanmar’s junta has kept Suu Kyi in detention for nearly 14 of the past 20 years, ever since it refused to recognise her National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in elections in 1990.
State media cautioned her supporters on Thursday against staging any demonstrations if she is found guilty, with memories still fresh in Myanmar of massive protests led by Buddhist monks which were crushed by the junta in 2007.
Yettaw has said that he embarked on his mission to warn Suu Kyi of a vision that she would be assassinated, dismissing suggestions by the regime that he was an agent of a foreign power bent on freeing her from detention.
He was arrested swimming back from her house just days before the most recent, six-year spell of her house arrest was due to expire.
Lawyers for Suu Kyi have argued that she cannot be held responsible for Yettaw’s actions, and that the legal framework for her initial detention at her house was under a 1975 law that has been superseded by later constitutions.
Suu Kyi told the trial that she did not report the American to the authorities for humanitarian reasons. The junta says she gave food, shelter and assistance to Yettaw, who has diabetes.