Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was taken to a prison compound in Myanmar on Thursday, where she was scheduled to stand trial next week for allegedly letting an American stay in her house in violation of her house-arrest terms.
The country’s military junta set up a special room for Suu Kyi at the Insein Prison near Yangon. The trial will begin Monday and is expected to take some time, said Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. The pro-democracy leader and two of her maids have been detained under Section 22 of the country’s legal code — a law against subversion, Nyan Win said. If convicted, Suu Kyi could face three to five years in prison, her supporters said. “The government has ordered to bring Aung San Suu Kyi’s all necessary items, because she needs to stay in the nearest place for this trial, and it is better for her,” said lawyer U Kyi Win. Suu Kyi’s lawyer blamed her prison detention on an American man, John William Yeattaw. Local media said Yeattaw swam across Inya Lake on May 3 and sneaked into Suu Kyi’s tightly guarded lakeside home.
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She is rarely allowed visits, except by her doctor. Police block the entrance to her home in Yangon. And swimming in the lake is forbidden. Her supporters say they think the government’s action Thursday is an excuse to extend restrictions on her movement. Suu Kyi, 63, was first detained in 1989, and authorities have extended her detention regularly. She has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. The latest extension is scheduled to expire later this month. “This is the cunning plan of the regime to put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in continuous detention beyond the six years allowed by the law they used to justify the detention of her,” the U.S. Campaign for Burma said in a written statement. “Daw” is an honorific. And the southeast Asian country was known as Burma before the military government changed it to Myanmar. Those who oppose the junta still use the old name. Yeattaw entered Suu Kyi’s house once before in 2008, the Campaign said. It said she refused to meet with him last year and spoke to him this time only long enough to tell him to leave. A newspaper affiliated with the country’s military junta said the American was arrested while swimming away from the house. But the newspaper account did not mention whether the man had encountered Suu Kyi. Nyan Win said Yeattaw’s appearance confirms security concerns the leader has voiced to the government. “This is a political issue, not a criminal issue,” he said. “She has done nothing wrong.” Media accounts of the incident said the man acknowledged that he was visiting Yangon on a tourist visa and was staying at a hotel when he swam across the lake with a 5-liter water bottle, presumably to use as a float. Authorities found a U.S. passport, a backpack, a flashlight, a pair of folding pliers, a camera and money on him, the newspaper said. Suu Kyi rose to global prominence during protests in the country in 1988. She was placed under house arrest before her party won the 1990 general elections, which the ruling military junta did not recognize. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Myanmar’s government has scheduled elections for next year that they say will lead the nation toward democracy. Human-rights organizations have said the vote will merely extend military rule in the nation.