Tuesday, August 11, 2009

US joins global condemnation on Suu Kyi’s verdict

by Mungpi
Tuesday, 11 August 2009 22:42

New Delhi (Mizzima) - US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said on Tuesday that Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, “should not have been convicted” and urged the junta to release her immediately along with other political prisoners.

Clinton, speaking at a news conference in Goma of Congo, where she is on a visit said, “She should not have been tried and she should not have been convicted.”

“We continue to call for her release from continuing house arrest,” Clinton added.

Clinton’s call came as Burma’s military rulers on Tuesday handed down an 18 month suspended sentence to Aung San Suu Kyi, for breaching the terms of her house arrest.

Although the special court in Insein Prison initially sentenced her to three years of prison term, Burma’s military Supremo commuted her sentence to half, making her serve a suspended sentence.

The verdict, however, was met with criticism both inside and outside the country, with several governments, rights groups and activists saying the sentence was unacceptable, as the detention, the trial, and the sentence were all illegal.

In a presidency statement, the European Union said the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and the fresh charges brought against her, the trial and the sentences were all breaching national and international laws.

In response to the junta’s action, “the EU will consider responding with additional targeted measures against those responsible for the verdict. In addition, the EU will further reinforce its restrictive measures targeting the regime of Burma/Myanmar, including its economic interests.”

The statement, however, said the EU was ready to revise, amend or reinforce its measures in light of the developments in Burma.

The EU also said, releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners was the first step in the process of genuine national reconciliation that is needed, if the junta’s planned elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible, free and fair.

The junta’s decision to keep Aung San Suu Kyi under a suspended sentence for another 18 months on Tuesday, also defied the repeated requests made by United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who asked the Burmese authorities to release the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate.

“The EU urges the authorities of Burma/Myanmar to comply with the Secretary General's demands and to cooperate with the UN and the international community. If the authorities decide to take such steps, the EU stands ready to respond positively,” the statement said.

The Verdict

On Tuesday, the special court in Insein Prison of Rangoon began the session at 10 a.m. Unlike other days, the court allowed journalists and foreign diplomats to witness the session, where the verdict for the four defendants was pronounced.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her two live-in party mates, who were charged with breaching the terms of their house arrest for accepting an American, without informing the authorities, were handed down three years of imprisonment with hard labour.

But, soon after the court announced the verdict, Burmese Home Minister Lt-Gen Maung Oo intervened with an order from military Supremo Snr Gen Than Shwe. The order read that the sentence on Aung San Suu Kyi and her two friends would be commuted to half and they would be allowed to serve a suspended sentence as concession for being the daughter of Burma’s Independence pioneer, General Aung San.

Nyan Win, Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer and spokesperson for her party, said, “I am not happy with the court’s verdict because it is not a fair judgement. But I am happy that the Home Minister intervened.”

Although the Burmese democracy icon, since the beginning of the trial two months ago, had pleaded innocence, the verdict came as no surprise for many Burma watchers, as it had been widely speculated that the junta was using the incident of the American man’s visit as a pretext to detain her further.

The suspended sentence would give the military junta liberty to conduct their planned elections in 2010, as the Burmese pro-democracy leader would not be out until early 2011.

However, unlike the many criticisms against the junta over the verdict, Yebaw Pho Than Gyaung, a veteran Burmese politician, based in China’s Kunming, said the concession made by the junta indicates that they were yielding to pressures.

The junta’s initial plan was to come down heavily on Aung San Suu Kyi and put her away in jail, out of the public scene, but the junta seems to have miscalculated the reaction it could attract, he said.

Meanwhile, the American man, John William Yettaw, who swam across a lake in Rangoon and entered Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in early May, was sentenced to seven years in jail complete with hard labour.

Secretary Clinton said, “We are concerned about the harsh sentence imposed upon [Yettaw] especially in the light of his medical condition.”

Clinton also said the junta’s planned elections next year, would not be legitimate unless the junta released political prisoners and began a dialogue with the opposition and ethnic groups.