Myanmar court allows Suu Kyi 1 more witness

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | 9:53 a.m. CDT; updated 10:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 9, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar — A Myanmar court ruled Tuesday that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to have one more defense witness at a trial that has sparked global outrage.

But Suu Kyi's lawyers immediately said they planned to appeal the decision as the Yangon Divisional Court still barred two senior members of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's political party from giving testimony.

Suu Kyi, who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, is on trial on charges of breaking the terms of her detention after an uninvited American man, John Yettaw of Falcon, Mo., swam secretly to her closely guarded lakeside home last month and stayed two days. Suu Kyi faces five years in prison if found guilty.

To date, only one witness has testified in Suu Kyi's defense. Her lawyers had requested that the Yangon Divisional Court reinstate three witnesses who were disqualified from testifying by judges in the lower district court presiding over her trial.

"The court has only partly accepted our appeal," said defense attorney Nyan Win, who said Suu Kyi's legal team plans to appeal to the High Court later this week to seek the reinstatement of the other two witnesses.

Myanmar's courts are widely viewed as subordinate to the ruling military, and expectations are high that Suu Kyi will be found guilty.

Her supporters say the regime is using the case as an excuse to keep Suu Kyi detained through elections planned for next year. Her National League for Democracy won the last elections in 1990, but the military, which has run the country since 1962, did not allow members of her party to take power.

The mostly closed-door trial, which started May 18, is taking place inside Insein Prison, home to many of the junta's political prisoners.

It was not clear if another appeal by Suu Kyi's lawyers, which could cause further delays in the proceedings, will be accepted. Closing arguments had originally been scheduled for June 1, were postponed by the court without explanation to June 5 and were delayed again by the first appeal for more witnesses.

Because at least one extra witness now must be heard, no new date has been set for closing arguments.

Nyan Win said he did not expect a verdict for at least two more weeks.

Truckloads of riot police were stationed near the Divisional Court ahead of Tuesday's ruling, and a group of pro-junta supporters gathered outside.

Suu Kyi's defense team had argued that she was legally entitled to have more witnesses, particularly in such an important case. Nyan Win said the decision to bar all but one witness was "not in accord with the law."

The three witnesses rejected by the lower court were all members of Suu Kyi's party. The two who remained disqualified are more senior.

Tuesday's ruling reinstated the lawyer Khin Moe Moe as a witness. But it maintained the disqualification of prominent journalist and former political prisoner Win Tin and the party's vice chairman Tin Oo, who is under house arrest.

Nyan Win said he believed the court did not accept Win Tin and Tin Oo because "these two persons are very senior members of the party, and these people can give statements with political essence."

The court had approved 23 prosecution witnesses, of whom 14 took the stand, according to Suu Kyi's lawyers.

The defense has not contested the basic facts of the case but argues that the relevant law has been misapplied by the authorities. They also assert that any intrusion was the responsibility of the security forces guarding the house.

Yettaw and two female members of Suu Kyi's party who are her sole companions in house arrest are being tried with her on the same charge.


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