Friday, July 24, 2009

Trial of Aung San Suu Kyi nears conclusion

The country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) has had only brief encounters with democracy since gaining independence in 1948 from the British. Most of its post-colonial governance has been by military rule. The most recent strongman dictating the affairs of state is Senior General Than Shwe.

Violent protests in 1988 over the mismanagement of the government and economy led to democratic elections in 1990. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 60% of the vote and 80% of the seats in parliament. The military backed National Unity Party won on 2% of the seats in parliament. The military annulled the results of the election.

Aung San Suu Kyi, inspired by Mahatam Gahdhi, entered politics to work for democratization of her country. She helped founded the National League for Democracy and would have likely been elected Prime Minister if the 1990 election results had been allowed to stand. She is a Buddhist who won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent pro-democracy struggle under the Myanmar dictatorship. She has also been under house arrest by the dictatorship most years since then.

On May 3, 2009, an American,John William Yettaw, swam across to the residence where she was under house arrest. It is unknown what his motives were. On May 13, Suu Kyi was arrested for violating the terms of her house arrest because the swimmer, who pleaded exhaustion, was allowed to stay in her house for two days before he attempted the swim back.

The trial hearing the charges against her started on May 18 is nearing its conclusion. She faces up to five years in prison if found guilty. The latest is from the Associated Press via the Miami Herald:
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was "absolutely dissatisfied" that her trial was adjourned Friday because it will give the prosecution more time to prepare its case, her lawyer said.

Suu Kyi's trial was postponed until Monday after her defense gave a 30-page closing statement, said one of her lawyers, Nyan Win.

Suu Kyi, 64, is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home and stayed for two days. She faces a possible five years in prison.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she was absolutely dissatisfied with the arrangement - giving more time for the prosecution to prepare the argument," said Nyan Win, using the respectful term "daw" for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Nyan Win said to ensure fairness, the usual practice is for courts to allow both parties to give their closing arguments on the same day.


The trial started May 18. The court had approved 23 prosecution witnesses, of which 14 took the stand. Only two out of four defense witnesses were allowed.

Yettaw has pleaded not guilty and explained in court that he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had gone to warn her.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

Suu Kyi's opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar's generals refused to relinquish power. Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.
You can read the entire AP piece here.

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