Aung San Suu Kyi charged with breaching detention terms

Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam across a lake to gain access to her compound, her lawyer said. Her trial has been set for May 18.


Burma’s military junta has charged Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American intruder gained access to her compound earlier this month.


Aung was transferred to Insein prison early on Thursday in an armed police convoy and appeared in court to hear the charges against her. She was charged under Section 22 of the law protecting the state from subversive elements, lawyer Hla Myo Myint told Agence France-Presse. Her trial is scheduled for May 18. She could face at least five more years of imprisonment on the new charges.


The charges stem from a mysterious incident earlier this month when US national John Yettaw, 53, reportedly swam across Inya lake and spent two days in Aung’s compound before being arrested on May 6.


US embassy officials were reportedly allowed to meet with Yettaw on Wednesday but have so far declined to comment. Yettaw had tried to meet Aung last year but was asked to leave and Aung’s household reported the incident to the authorities.


Critics say the latest charges against Aung are merely an attempt by the military regime to extend her imprisonment past elections promised for 2010. Her latest period of detention was set to expire on May 27.


Aung’s National League for Democracy Party won the country’s last elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power. The Nobel Peace laureate has spent 13 of the subsequent 19 years under house arrest and is still viewed as a major political threat to the military leadership.


“She is viewed by the military regime as the number one threat to their grip on power,” says FRANCE 24’s Southeast Asia correspondent, Nelson Rand.


Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma, says the junta’s motives in bringing these latest charges against Aung are “ridiculously obvious”.


“They are trying at all costs to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi [from taking part] in any political events,” he says, notably the 2010 elections.


There are concerns over the fairness of the trial, even before it begins.


“Burma is not known for having [a] legal system that meets international standards,” says Sunai Phasuk, a consultant on Burma for Human Rights Watch. “The courts have been used to serve [the] political interests of the military junta”.


“They are looking for any justification to extend the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi,” he says.


Moreover, the Forum for Democracy’s Aung puts the responsibility for Yettaw’s breach of security squarely on the shoulders of the junta itself.


“The regime claims that she is under the protective custody of the military, so they are the responsible authority,” he says.

International reaction to Aung’s detention was swift. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he is "deeply disturbed" that Aung is facing new charges and called her hours arrest “unlawful”.

"The Burmese regime is clearly intent on finding any pretext, no matter how tenuous, to extend her unlawful detention," Brown said in a statement issued by his office.

“If the 2010 elections are to have any semblance of credibility, she and all political prisoners must be freed to participate,” the statement went on to say.  

The European Union's special envoy, Piero Fassino, said there was "no justification" for the new charges in an interview with Italy's Channel 5 television station.

Fassino called on the international community to use "every possible means to press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi," as well as for the release of "the 2,000 other political prisoners who are held in Burmese jails".

The US State Department also expressed its concern. "We have seen this report, which is certainly troubling if true," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said of the new charges. He said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has requested additional information on Aung’s case.

Dozens of protesters rallied before the Burmese embassy in Tokyo, chanting "Free Suu Kyi!" and holding banners that read: "The military junta should stop oppression with its unfair trial!"  

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