Myanmar’s highest court Wednesday granted an appeal for more witnesses from the country’s top opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial on charges of subversion.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the court will hold a hearing Friday, which just happens to fall on the pro-democracy figure’s 64th birthday. The court is expected to set a date for when the appeal will be heard. Win said the appeal will be heard by one judge and a result should come within a week after it is heard. Suu Kyi is accused of violating her house arrest by offering temporary shelter to American John William Yettaw, who swam to her lakeside home on May 3. She said she doesn’t know Yettaw, didn’t know of his plans and didn’t do anything wrong. The trial is taking place near Yangon at Insean Prison, where Suu Kyi — a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — is held. There has been outrage across the globe over what has been considered Suu Kyi’s unlawful detention, and one Web site has used the occasion of Suu Kyi’s birthday to campaign for her. The site, 64 for Aung San Suu Kyi — at 64forsuu.com — wants to collect as many messages as it can by Friday, when Suu Kyi turns 64. The site lets supporters leave 64-word messages of support for her. Her supporters say the arrest is meant to keep her confined so she cannot participate in the general elections that the junta has scheduled for next year. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years and the military junta has regularly extended her confinement. Her latest round of home detention — after five years of confinement — expired last month, according to her supporters at home and abroad. Though the government said it considered releasing her at the end of the term, it said it had no choice but to try her after she met with Yettaw. She was put under house arrest in 1989. The following year, the National League for Democracy won more than 80 percent of the legislative seats in the first free elections in the country in nearly 30 years. But the military junta disqualified Suu Kyi from serving because of her house arrest, refused to step down and annulled the results. Since then, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been the face of the Myanmar pro-democracy movement. As for the trial itself, U.N. human rights experts weighed in Tuesday, calling for Myanmar to ensure a fair trial for Suu Kyi. “The five experts called upon the authorities of Myanmar to allow the justice system to function in an independent and impartial manner, so as to guarantee an open and fair trial for the defendants, and to grant unfettered media access,” the expert said in a statement.
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“So far, the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and her aides has been marred by flagrant violations of substantive and procedural rights,” said Leandro Despouy, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. The United Nations said the proceedings have “mostly been conducted behind closed doors and the media have been denied access to defense lawyers.” “Transparency in the administration of justice is a pre-requisite of any state governed by the rule of law,” Despouy said. The experts noted that the defense had only been permitted to present one witness and another was granted permission to give testimony. In comparison, the U.N. said, the prosecution has called 14 witnesses. “The court must ensure that all witnesses who may have relevant evidence are able to testify,” Despouy said. Benjamin Zawacki, Myanmar researcher for Amnesty International, said the issue of the fairness of the trial is a diversion. Suu Kyi, he said, should never have been seized in the first place and should be released “immediately and conditionally.” He said the trial at first looked as if it would end quickly. But the regime, by extending the trial for appeals, is trying to give the impression to the outside world that it is a fair proceeding. “They are is trying to deflect international attention,” he said. Zawacki also said they are working to persuade China — “their most effective and consistent protector” — to stave of any backlash in the U.N. Security Council.