20 May 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi on trial for breaking restrictions

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Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was taken from her home last week and put in Insein Prison on a charge of breaching the conditions of her house arrest order. ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch are demanding that the international community pressure the Burmese military government not to continue Suu Kyi's 13-year detention.

Suu Kyi went on trial on 18 May for violating the conditions of her house arrest by sheltering U.S. citizen John William Yettaw, who swam to her lakeside home to secretly visit her earlier this month. In a surprise move, on 20 May the junta allowed journalists and the public to cover her trial, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

"China, India, and the ASEAN members, through their indifference and ineffectiveness, each bears responsibility for the bricks and mortar of Aung San Suu Kyi's prison," said ARTICLE 19. ASEAN has since expressed "grave concern" at Suu Kyi's trial, but the chair of the regional group, Thailand, ruled out sanctions.

Burmese law states that it is mandatory to notify the military authorities about any overnight visitor, and foreigners are not allowed to spend the night in a Burmese home. Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison under the State Protection Act, which is frequently used to imprison other pro-democracy activists.

Yettaw is being tried separately for violations of immigration law and a statute covering swimming in the city's Inya Lake.

"The Burmese military government is blaming a prisoner for somebody breaking into a prison," said ARTICLE 19. "This would be laughable if it was not so unbelievably sad."

Coincidentally, Suu Kyi's appeal against her imprisonment was rejected earlier this month, even though she was scheduled to be freed on 27 May. The junta was widely expected to extend her detention yet again. The UN has declared that her imprisonment is illegal under international law and even under Burma's own legal code, which allows for a maximum of five-years in detention.

The latest charges are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep Suu Kyi detained past elections it has scheduled for early next year. Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, has announced that representatives will not take part in the 2010 elections if Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are not freed.

ARTICLE 19 is also urging interested stakeholders to write to the editors of India's most popular newspapers asking them to call attention to their government's role in propping up the illegitimate Burmese regime. For addresses, see: http://www.ifex.org/burma/2009/05/15/suu_kyi_incarcerated/

In the wake of Suu Kyi's re-imprisonment, the junta has stepped up its restrictions on Internet usage, making it more difficult for Burmese to send emails or access websites, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The increase restrictions "suggest that the military government is once again trying to isolate Burma, as it does whenever there is political tension," said RSF.

Then on 15 May, journalists working for various Rangoon-based publications complained about their inability to cover Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest because of government censorship, according to the online exile publication "Irrawaddy".

In a separate case, two U.S. journalists who were teaching students in Mandalay were arrested on 6 May and deported to Bangkok the following day, reports Mizzima News. Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates believe their case could be the fallout from the recent actions of fellow U.S. citizen Yettaw, whom they do not know.

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