Myanmar allows some media at Suu Kyi trial
YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) — In an unusual move, Myanmar’s military government allowed some media inside the courtroom Wednesday as the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered its third day.
Filipino protesters rally in front of Myanmar’s embassy in Manila on May 19, 2009
The move is noteworthy because the government usually restricts access to reporters in matters related to the Nobel laureate. The first two days of the trial were conducted behind closed doors.
All 10 reporters who have been allowed to view the proceedings are Myanmar citizens. Five are with local media outlets; the others work for foreign news organizations.
The government move follows international criticism of the case.
Among the critics are nine Nobel laureates who called the trial a “mockery” in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday.
The case is being tried inside a prison compound near Yangon. Police maintain a heavy presence outside.After a slow start on the first day, the proceedings picked up pace Tuesday, offering hope to Suu Kyi‘s supporters that the trial might end soon.
Nyan Win, the spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the court might be speeding up the hearings so it can issue a verdict within seven days — before Suu Kyi’s latest round of home detention expires.
The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years — a confinement that the military junta has regularly extended.
The latest extension expires later this month, and Suu Kyi’s supporters say the trial provides the government with an excuse to continue restricting her movement.
“The trial is a mockery,” the nine Nobel Peace Prize winners said in their letter. “There is no judicial system in Burma. It is clear that this is an excuse by the military junta to add trumped-up charges at a time when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s unlawful detention was scheduled to end May 27, 2009.”
Signatories to the letter included Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“Daw” is an honorific title in the southeast Asian country, which is also known as Burma.
Suu Kyi, 63, and two of her maids have been detained under Section 22 of the country’s legal code, a law against subversion.
If convicted, Suu Kyi could face three to five years in prison.
The charges stem from May 3, when John William Yettaw was accused of swimming almost two miles across the lake behind Suu Kyi’s crumbling, colonial-era home and staying for two days.
The government said Yettaw’s presence in the closely guarded home violated the conditions of Suu Kyi’s house arrest.
The country’s regime rarely allows Suu Kyi any visitors, and foreigners are not allowed overnight stays in local households without government permission.
Yettaw, a 53-year-old former military serviceman from Falcon, Missouri, is charged with violating immigration laws and trespassing. The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
A lawyer selected by the U.S. Embassy is representing him.
Suu Kyi’s lawyers are expected to argue that the pro-democracy advocate knew nothing about the American’s plan to visit her and that she tried in vain to get him to leave.
The defense is also expected to turn the charges on their head, arguing that the government has failed to protect Suu Kyi.
U Kyi Win, one of Suu Kyi’s lawyers, said Yettaw refused to leave — first saying he didn’t want to swim in daylight for fear of being captured, and later blaming leg cramps.
Suu Kyi didn’t tell authorities about the visit because she didn’t want to get Yettaw or anyone else in trouble, U Kyi Win said.
The Nobel laureate has been the face of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and the focus of a global campaign to free her. Her National League for Democracy party won over 80 percent of the legislative seats in 1990. She was disqualified from serving because of her house arrest, and the military junta ignored the results.
The government has said next year’s scheduled elections will re-introduce democracy in Myanmar. But its plan includes a clause that forbids citizens who bore children with foreigners from running for office. That makes Suu Kyi ineligible. She married a British man and has two sons with him.