Media, diplomats again barred from Suu Kyi trial

Filipino protesters rally in front of Myanmar's embassy in Manila on May 19, 2009.
Myanmar’s government once again barred diplomats and journalists from the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, after allowing them in for just one day.

About 20 diplomats and 10 journalists were permitted by the country’s military junta to view the proceedings Wednesday, which lasted just over an hour. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is being tried on allegations of subversion. The government also allowed diplomats from Russia, Singapore and Thailand to meet with Suu Kyi later Wednesday. Besides the one concession, the trial has been a closed-door affair since it began Monday. The case has prompted international criticism with nine Nobel laureates — including Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa — calling it a “mockery.” A British envoy who attended the Wednesday session said Suu Kyi appeared “robust” and in a positive frame of mind at the brief session. Britain’s ambassador was at the trial » “She looked extremely alert, extremely in charge of the situation, in good spirits, in good humor at the end,” said Mark Canning, Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar. “She was very much in charge of her defense team.”

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Suu Kyi was not allowed to meet individually with diplomats. But in the courtroom, she expressed her gratitude. “Thank you for coming and your support,” she said. “I hope to meet you in better days.” The case is being tried inside a prison compound near Yangon, and police maintain a heavy presence outside. Nyan Win, the spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the court may be trying to issue a verdict before Suu Kyi’s latest round of home detention expires — on May 27. 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. Also on trial are two of Suu Kyi’s maids and an American man who allegedly swam to her lakeside home, which prompted the prosecution. Suu Kyi, 63, and her maids have been detained under Section 22 of the country’s legal code, a law against subversion. Watch former U.S. president Jimmy Carter discuss Aung San Suu Kyi » If convicted, Suu Kyi could face three to five years in prison. The charges stem from a May 3 incident, in which John William Yettaw is 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. But 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 reintroduce 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.