Sham verdict on Suu Kyi's appeal

We heard late last Thursday evening that Myanmar’s high court would sit the following morning to deliver its decision on Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal. Given the global interest in Myanmar and in Aung San Suu Kyi in particular, you could have expected the atmosphere in Yangon to be highly charged on Friday morning. If her appeal had been upheld, the implications would have been truly significant. As for Nelson Mandela’s release, everyone here would have remembered where they were the day Aung San Suu Kyi was freed.
The reality, however, was different. It was business as usual on the streets. There was no extra buzz around the tea shops; no excited speculation among the local staff in the embassy. Everyone I spoke to before the hearing knew exactly what the result would be. So there was no tension, just resignation.

The court building is an impressive, but faded, relic of Myanmar’s colonial past. Rhubarb and custard painted on the outside, the courtrooms and offices inside are decorated in a bizarre pistachio green and chocolate colour scheme. These rooms, with their high ceilings and lazy ceiling fans, look on to a central courtyard garden. Inside the room allotted to this case today, the lawyers in their black robes and traditional headgear were engaged in animated conversation. Anyone who had arrived here with no prior knowledge of the country would have thought this was a regular legal process where learned and considered interpretation of the law was at stake. As in previous sessions, the prosecution and defence lawyers were present, their desks stacked with law books and papers.

International interest
Diplomats representing western countries were also well represented; a reflection of the intense international interest in the hearing. My mobile phone vibrated throughout as international news networks placed their requests for a read out and a quote once proceedings were over. But everyone knew that we were witnessing a sham process and that the outcome of this hearing, like those that had gone before it, was known from the moment the trumped-up charges against Suu Kyi were made last May. And no one knew this better than Suu Kyi herself. She wasn’t in the court today – she wasn’t allowed to attend. She remains confined under house arrest at least until November, the assumption being that this will prevent her from taking part in the regime’s elections.
Proceedings began at around 10.15am. They were over five minutes later. The appeal was dismissed on the grounds that the central arguments presented by the defence team concerning the 1974 constitution were irrelevant. And that was it. After discussions with Suu Kyi’s defence team outside the courtroom, I made my way back to the office, photographed by a battery of special police photographers (goodness only knows what they do with all the photographs they have taken of me since I arrived in July). I passed the small group of local stringers outside the court and launched myself back into the bustle of daily street life in Yangon. And, as before, it was as if nothing significant had happened - everyone was pretty sure what the decision would be and they had been proved right. But in the wider scheme of things, this was a significant event. It represents another dark day; another backward step.

Inclusive dialogue
So where do we and the Myanmarese democracy movement go from here? Seen from here, the answer is that we keep up the pressure unrelentingly. Elections will be held here later this year. Their credibility will be judged by some pretty simple benchmarks. For example, will the 2,100 political prisoners, imprisoned for what they think and what they have written and said, be allowed to express their views to the electorate? Will their views be given column inches and airtime in the media alongside the regime’s political representatives? Will Myanmar’s many ethnic groups be brought into an inclusive dialogue on the future of their country? And on election day itself, will people be allowed to cast their votes freely and will the count be conducted properly?

And in the meantime, the legal case rumbles on. Suu Kyi’s lawyers can now make a case, to the so-called “special court”, that there are significant issues of law or fact which have not been properly considered thus far. They told us this morning they expect to submit their arguments within a month. If this court agrees that there is a case to answer, a special panel of three judges will consider their arguments. If so, the next stage is likely to be in Naypyitaw, the purpose-built capital located about four hours’ drive away from any major population centre in Myanmar. And that will probably be the only change. The venue may be different, but the outcome will almost certainly be the same.
The Guardian

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