/ 5 June 2009

Suu Kyi lawyers challenge Burma barring of witnesses

Lawyers for Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will go to court on Friday to challenge the barring of three defence witnesses from testifying at the Nobel laureate’s trial.

They will argue that a lower court’s decision to accept only one defence witness, while hearing 14 from the prosecution, was grossly unfair, Nyan Win, one of Suu Kyi’s lawyers, said.

”It is against the law and normal practice to reject the defence witnesses without any sound reasons,” he told Reuters ahead of the hearing at Rangoon’s Division Court.

Suu Kyi (63) faces three to five years in prison if found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay for two days after he swam to her home on May 4.

Her lawyer said the court had decided on Friday to delay closing arguments in Suu Kyi’s case until June 12, adjourning the final hearing for the third time.

”No reason was given,” Nyan Win added.

A conviction is widely expected in the former Burma, where the courts routinely bend the law to suit the generals.

The military government insists the trial will unfold ”according to the law”. Critics say the charges have been trumped up to keep the charismatic National League for Democracy (NLD) leader in detention during elections next year.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in some form of detention, much of it a virtual prisoner inside her home on Rangoon’s Inya Lake.

The May 27 decision to allow Suu Kyi only one witness, lawyer and NLD member of Parliament Kyi Win, angered activists who saw another attempt to sabotage her defence. Authorities had revoked the licence of one her lawyers before the trial began.

The banned witnesses are Win Tin, a senior NLD member, the party’s detained vice-chairperson Tin Oo, and lawyer Khin Moe Moe.

Mission from God
Suu Kyi is accused of violating her house arrest under Section 22 of a security law protecting the state from ”subversive elements”. Her lawyers argue that section is not valid because it is based on a Constitution abolished years ago.

Her two female housemates and the American intruder, John Yettaw, are charged under the same law.

Yettaw (53) has told the court that God sent him to warn Suu Kyi she was going to be assassinated by ”terrorists”.

His lawyer, Khin Maung Oo, said Yettaw is a ”sincere, honest and pious man” who acted alone and with no criminal intent. Yettaw is also accused of immigration violations and breaking a municipal law against swimming in Inya Lake.

”We hope the court passes a lenient sentence,” he said.

Yettaw shares a cell with other inmates at Rangoon’s Insein prison where many high-profile political prisoners are jailed.

”He mostly lives on water now. He said he was purifying his body. Doctors are taking good care of him,” Khin Maung Oo said.

Suu Kyi has blamed Yettaw’s bizarre visit on a security breach, for which no officials have been punished.

The regime has accused Western governments and critical neighbours of meddling in its internal affairs. It has vowed to press ahead with a seven-step ”roadmap to democracy” expected to culminate in multi-party elections next year.

Critics say the polls will entrench nearly a half century of military rule in Burma. — Reuters