/ 3 September 2009

Suu Kyi lawyers appeal against house detention

Lawyers for Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi filed an appeal on Thursday against her conviction for violating a security law after an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home in May.

A lawyer for the 64-year-old Nobel peace laureate said the August 12 ruling was illegal because it was based on that 1974 state Constitution, which is no longer in use.

Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention, was sentenced to another 18 months under house arrest, enough to keep her out of campaigning for elections due next year. The verdict sparked international condemnation.

Appeals were also filed at Rangoon Division Court on behalf of two of Suu Kyi companions convicted on similar charges after the American, John Yettaw, stayed uninvited at Suu Kyi’s home for two days, said the lawyer, Nyan Win.

The court would decide whether to go ahead with the appeal on Friday, he added.

Yettaw’s presence breached the terms of her house arrest and broke a security law protecting the state from ”subversive elements,” according to the August verdict.

Optimistic about appeal
Yettaw was sentenced to seven years’ hard labour in a parallel trial on three charges, including immigration offences and ”swimming in a non-swimming area.” He was subsequently freed and allowed to return to the United States.

”We are very optimistic about the outcome of the appeals since these judgments shouldn’t have been passed all along,” Nyan Win told Reuters before entering the court.

Some local observers doubt the appeal will succeed given the political and international significance of the case in the former Burma.

”This case is a political issue, not a legal one,” said a retired legal expert who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case. ”She was put under house arrest just because they don’t want her to disrupt elections. There is no point in filing appeals in this kind of case in this country.”

However, some view the appeal as a critical step for keeping international attention focused on Suu Kyi’s plight.

”It is essential to keep exploring all legal avenues,” said a former lawyer who is now involved in politics. ”It will make the case attract international attention and escalate pressure on the regime.”

US President Barack Obama has said Suu Kyi’s conviction violated universal principles of human rights and called for her release.

In May, Obama extended a ban on US investment in Burma imposed in 1997 because of the authorities’ political repression. He has also renewed sanctions on imports. — Reuters