Suu Kyi pleads not guilty in U.S. intruder case
YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi pleaded not guilty Friday after a prison court formally charged the Nobel laureate for allowing an uninvited American intruder inside her home.
The court's decision to proceed with the trial of Suu Kyi, her two female housemates and the U.S. man after five days of hearings had been widely expected, analysts said.
Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing the American, John Yettaw, to stay in her home for two days in early May.
"Are you guilty?," the presiding judge, U Thaung Nyunt, asked as Suu Kyi faced the court inside Yangon's Insein prison.
"No, because I did not commit any crime," she calmly replied, according to her lawyer Nyan Win.
He said the trial could take two weeks and he was confident of an acquittal "if everything goes according to the law."
Myanmar watchers say that is a big "if" in the former Burma, where the military holds sway over a legal system that has put more than 2,000 political prisoners behind bars.
"Given that they have crossed this particular line, it is hard to imagine they will step back because of international opinion," said Sean Turnell, an economics professor and Myanmar expert at Australia's Macquarie University.
Critics have denounced the trial as a ploy to keep Suu Kyi, the charismatic National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, in detention until after 2010 elections. The West derides the polls as a sham to entrench nearly a half century of military rule.
In the first comments on the trial from a senior official, Foreign Minister Nyan Win suggested the incident at Suu Kyi's home was an elaborate plot by "anti-government elements."
The foreign minister, who goes by the same name as Suu Kyi's lawyer, said the incident was probably "trumped up to intensify international pressure on Myanmar" at a time when the United States, Japan and some European countries were reviewing their policies towards Myanmar, state media reported.
The United States renewed sanctions last week, while the European Union has threatened tougher measures.
Friday the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about the political impact of the developments relating to Suu Kyi.
The court formally charged Suu Kyi and her two female housemates with violating her house arrest under a draconian security law, and adjourned the trial to Monday.
Suu Kyi blamed the authorities for lax security at her home, where she has spent most of the past six years under police guard, with her phone line cut and visitors restricted.
"If the security had been proper, he would not have got here," Suu Kyi later told her lawyers.
Yettaw pleaded not guilty to breaking the same security law, immigration violations and a charge of illegal swimming.
"I am not guilty because I had a dream about the assassination of Aung San Suu Kyi and I came to warn her," Yettaw was quoted as telling the judge.
When the judge asked the 53-year-old American why he had swum to Suu Kyi's home, he replied: "I swam there because I could not walk on water."
Friday's hearing took a bizarre turn when Yettaw rose to his feet, turned away from the judge and told the courtroom: "She is innocent. She is not guilty." He then sat down.
The trial was again closed to diplomats after they were allowed inside the court for about one hour Wednesday in a rare concession from the authorities.
Thursday, the court was shown pictures and video footage taken by Yettaw inside Suu Kyi's home, where she has been a virtual prisoner for more than 13 of the past 19 years.
(Writing by Darren Schuettler; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this