YANGON, Myanmar Myanmar's military regime opened Aung San Suu Kyi's trial Wednesday to reporters and diplomats, but the unexpected access did not stem criticism that the hearing is a political ploy to keep the pro-democracy leader behind bars through next year's election.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man stayed at her home without official permission. The offence is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.
She is standing trial with two female members of her party who live with her, and John Yettaw, the American who swam to her lakeside home under the cover of darkness earlier this month and sneaked in uninvited.
Diplomats at the hearing said Ms. Suu Kyi, dressed in a pink jacket and maroon sarong, appeared alert and in good spirits. She greeted the envoys after asking court officials whether doing so would violate any of the country's security laws, telling them she hoped to “meet you all in better days.”
“Yes, we saw Aung San Suu Kyi, and she appeared very strong,” Joselito Jacinto, the charge d'affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Myanmar, said after the court hearing. Ms. Suu Kyi has reportedly been ill recently.
“She sat listening intently and alertly to what was going on,” he said. “She exuded a type of aura which can be described as moving, quite awe-inspiring.”
But diplomats and her supporters said the limited access didn't change their opinion of the trial, which many say is staged.
“All the paraphernalia of the courtroom was there, the judges the prosecution, the defence. But I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted I'm afraid,” British Ambassador Mark Canning told the British Broadcasting Corp. “No, I don't have any confidence in the outcome.”
Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party and one of her four lawyers, said allowing diplomats into the trial fell short of demands for an open proceedings. He did not elaborate.
Ms. Suu Kyi, who is being held at the infamous Insein Prison along with scores of other political prisoners, had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years under house arrest. The charges against her are widely seen as a pretext to keep her in detention during polls scheduled for next year — the culmination of the junta's “roadmap to democracy,” which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. It last held an election in 1990, but the junta refused to honour the results after a landslide victory by Ms. Suu Kyi's party.