Friday, 31 July 2009

Myanmar delays Suu Kyi verdict to Aug 11

Demonstrators stand outside the Myanmar Mission to the United Nations in New York during a protest over the detention of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon. A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Friday postponed the verdict in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi until August 11, a local official and diplomats said.

A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Friday postponed its verdict in the case of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi until August 11, in the latest delay to hit her internationally condemned trial.

"The court said they have to consider legal problems, that's why they said they will give the verdict on August 11," her lawyer Nyan Win told AFP after the brief court hearing at Yangon's notorious Insein prison.

"We are not surprised. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was also not surprised," said Nyan Win, who is also the spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD). Daw is a term of respect in the Burmese language.

The Nobel peace laureate faces up to five years in jail if convicted on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest, after an American man swam across a lake to her heavily secured villa in May.

Critics have accused Myanmar's iron-fisted generals of using the intrusion by US national John Yettaw as an excuse to keep the opposition leader locked up during elections that are due in 2010.

Suu Kyi's international legal counsel, Jared Genser, said the postponement was another attempt by the junta to deflect international criticism.

"It is in some ways a smart move -- push off the verdict until the middle of August when numerous government and United Nations officials around the world will be on vacation," Genser said in a statement.

"But it remains to be seen whether this ploy will work or if anticipation will be heightened in the run-up to the issuance of the verdict."

Riot police surrounded the prison on Friday and police trucks patrolled the city following warnings in the junta-controlled state media that protests against a guilty verdict would not be tolerated.

Diplomats from all foreign missions in Yangon were allowed into the trial, Western diplomatic sources and Myanmar officials said.

The judges had said earlier this week that they would give their verdict on Friday following a two-and-a-half-month case that has unleashed a storm of international outrage against Myanmar's military regime.

Observers and diplomats have widely predicted a guilty verdict. But there has been speculation that the junta might bow slightly to foreign pressure and give a lesser prison sentence, or even return her to house arrest.

Myanmar's junta has kept the 64-year-old Suu Kyi in detention for nearly 14 of the past 20 years, ever since it refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in elections in 1990.

Washington, which like the European Union has imposed sanctions against the Myanmar regime, demanded late Thursday that Suu Kyi and another 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar should be "immediately and unconditionally released".

Verdicts had also been expected Friday in the cases of Yettaw and of Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, two female aides who were living with Suu Kyi at the lakeside property when the American arrived there in the dead of night.

Yettaw, 53, from Falcon, Missouri, faces charges of abetting Suu Kyi's breach of security laws, immigration violations and a municipal charge of illegal swimming. All three also face up to five years in prison.

Yettaw has said that he embarked on his mission to warn Suu Kyi of a vision that she would be assassinated. He was arrested just days before the most recent, six-year spell of her house arrest was due to expire.

Lawyers for Suu Kyi have argued that she cannot be held responsible for Yettaw's actions, and that the legal framework for her initial detention at her house was under a 1975 law that has been superseded by later constitutions.

Suu Kyi told the trial that she did not report the American to the authorities for humanitarian reasons. The junta says she gave food, shelter and assistance to Yettaw, who has diabetes.

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