(New York) - The politically motivated guilty verdict against the Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a reprehensible abuse of power by Burma's military government, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on Burma's allies and other governments to condemn the verdict, demand the Nobel Prize laureate's immediate and unconditional release, and impose additional targeted sanctions against the military leadership.
On August 11, 2009, a criminal court inside Insein prison in Rangoon sentenced Suu Kyi to 3 years of imprisonment for violating her order for house arrest, with the sentence reduced to 18 months, to be served under house arrest.
"This trial was a farce, a brutal distortion of the legal process," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "By silencing prominent opponents through bogus trials, the generals are clearly showing why the elections they have been touting for next year won't bring change."
Police arrested Suu Kyi, 64, and her two assistants, Khin Khin Win, 65, and her daughter, Win Ma Ma, 41, on May 14, 2009, and transferred them to Insein prison in the commercial capital, Rangoon. They went on trial on May 18, charged with breaching the terms of Suu Kyi's house arrest order by permitting the uninvited visit of an American, John William Yettaw, on May 4 and 5.
Yettaw has been sentenced to 7 years in prison with hard labor, convicted of the same charges of breaching Aung San Suu Kyi's detention order, and with breaching immigration laws. All four defendants were charged under the draconian State Emergency Act (also known as the Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts).
Criminal trials of political prisoners in Burma do not meet international fair trial standards. The judges are not independent, and the defense does not have an adequate opportunity to present its case. Suu Kyi's trial lasted from May 18 to July 31, with frequent delays. The court permitted 14 witnesses for the prosecution, but only two for the defense, despite several appeals by Suu Kyi's lawyers to present additional witnesses.
The trial has been closed to the public, with foreign diplomats and the press only permitted to observe the trial on a few occasions. The prosecution claimed that Suu Kyi was jointly responsible with the authorities, who place guards around her home, for the breach of security on her residence, and, therefore, the intrusion violated the terms of her house arrest.
"There was never any doubt that the verdict would be a purely political decision," said Adams. "Any suggestion that evidence presented or excluded had any impact on the outcome of this fraudulent trial is ridiculous."
Suu Kyi's trial had already been widely condemned by the international community. US President Barack Obama called it "a show trial." The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, visited Burma on July 3 and 4, but was denied access to Suu Kyi. Even a normally close ally of the Burmese government, Singapore, expressed "dismay" at the arrest, calling it "a setback for the national reconciliation process."
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also called for her release: a statement by the ASEAN chair, Thailand, "expresse[d] grave concern about recent developments relating to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," reminding Burma's military government that "as a responsible member of ASEAN, [Burma] has the responsibility to protect and promote human rights."
Human Rights Watch called on ASEAN to use the recently formed ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights, the terms of reference for which were agreed on July 20, to hold the Burmese government to account for its actions.
Burma's supporters and trade partners - namely China, Russia, India, and ASEAN member states - should denounce this verdict and explore measures to impose targeted financial sanctions against the military leadership in Burma. Countries already imposing targeted sanctions - including the US, the European Union, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada - should expand and tighten the existing targeted financial sanctions, which focus on individual abusers and companies but not the population at large.
The UN Security Council should condemn Burma strongly and finally move to take meaningful action against Burma's military rulers. This could include an international arms embargo and other targeted sanctions on Burma.
"Burma's allies, such as China, Russia, and India, need to exert pressure on Burma's military rulers to free Suu Kyi immediately," said Adams. "It's time for ASEAN, the UN, and concerned governments to match their words of condemnation with action."