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Myanmar junta defends Suu Kyi court ban

Myanmar's state media on Thursday defended the ruling junta's decision to bar opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi from court during final arguments in her appeal against her detention.

world Updated: Sep 17, 2009 15:03 IST

Myanmar's state media on Thursday defended the ruling junta's decision to bar opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi from court during final arguments in her appeal against her detention.

The Nobel laureate was convicted on August 11 of breaching security laws after an American swam to her house. She was sentenced to three years' hard labour but junta chief Than Shwe cut the term to 18 months' house arrest.

Her lawyers say the military regime has denied her permission to attend court on Friday to hear closing submissions in her appeal, but government mouthpiece newspapers said the decision was in line with the law.

"According to the practices of the courts, any defendants are not sent to the tribunal," a commentary in the English-language New Light of Myanmar daily said.

"If the defendant is a prisoner, there is no need to summon him to the court for his statements," said the editorial, which also appeared in state-run Burmese language newspapers.

"Courts hear criminal cases in accordance with the existing laws.... Therefore, it is fair to say that Myanmar's judicial practice meets the judicial principles," it said.

The article did not mention Suu Kyi's name nor her party but it was published one day after Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy said the decision to bar her from the appeal court was "not justice".

The 64-year-old pro-democracy leader appealed against the verdict earlier this month.

Eccentric US national John Yettaw was sentenced to seven years' hard labour at the same trial for swimming uninvited to her lakeside house in May, but the regime freed him last month after a visit by US Senator Jim Webb.

The guilty verdict against Suu Kyi sparked international outrage and the imposition of further sanctions against Myanmar's powerful generals, who have already kept the frail Suu Kyi locked up for 14 of the past 20 years.

Her extended house arrest keeps her off the scene for elections promised by the regime some time in 2010, adding to widespread criticism that the polls are a sham designed to legitimise the junta's grip on power.

In New York, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday that the number of political prisoners in Myanmar had doubled to more than 2,200 in the two years since a crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks.

The "brutality" of the military government had been highlighted by the latest detention term ordered against Suu Kyi, the group said.

"Burma's generals are planning elections next year that will be a sham if their opponents are in prison," said Tom Malinowski, an HRW official.

The NLD won a landslide victory in the country's last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.

US President Barack Obama's acting point man on Myanmar also urged the regime to free all political prisoners as he said that a review of US policy on the country, including sanctions, was almost complete.

"It is so important that we not forget about these people," Scot Marciel, deputy assistant secretary, East Asia and Pacific bureau, and ambassador for ASEAN affairs, said at the launch of the HRW report.