RANGOON, Burma – Riot police behind barbed wire barricades ringed a notorious prison where pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was to go on trial Monday for allegedly harboring an American man who swam to her lakeside home.
The tight security came as activist groups, which spearheaded a bloody uprising against Burma's military rulers in 2007, called for protest rallies in front of the Insein prison until Suu Kyi is freed.
On the eve of the trial, her defense lawyer said Suu Kyi was innocent of the charges, which could put her into prison for up to five years.
"We call all political forces for Free Aung San Suu Kyi to mobilize all over Burma, by holding praying sessions in homes, places of worship ... and holding silent, peaceful rallies in front of Insein prison," said a statement from three activist groups.
These included an organization of Buddhist monks, who were at the forefront of the 2007 protests, which were brutally crushed by the regime.
"After listening to the sequence of events, it is very clear that there is no breach of conditions of her restrictions," lawyer Kyi Win said after visiting the Noble Peace Prize laureate in the prison over the weekend.
Suu Kyi, 63, was charged Thursday with violating the terms of her detention by sheltering John William Yettaw, reportedly a Vietnam War veteran, who will also be tried along with two female assistants who have been with Suu Kyi since 2003.
Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of house arrest.
The charges are widely seen as a pretext for the ruling junta to keep Suu Kyi detained past elections it has scheduled for next year as the culmination of a "roadmap to democracy" which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military control.
In Monday's court session, Kyi Win said Suu Kyi's defense team will ask for an open trial and may also request bail. The prosecution is expected to call 22 witnesses during the trial.
Kyi Win said Suu Kyi was ready to tell her side of the story. "She has always been ready to tell the truth," he said.
On Sunday, a family member said Suu Kyi's personal physician, Tin Myo Win, was released by authorities a day earlier after being taken from his home on May 7, a day after Yettaw was arrested near Suu Kyi's lakeside residence, where she has been detained for more than 13 of the last 19 years.
The family member spoke on condition of anonymity, citing possible reprisals by authorities.
It is not known why Tin Myo Win was arrested. A spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy earlier said the doctor's detention may have been related to the American swimmer, who has been labeled a "fool" by the pro-democracy movement.
Her latest arrest has sparked a storm of international appeals to Burma's government to free her and to restore democracy in the country, which has been under military rule since 1962.
In unusually sharp criticism from a Southeast Asian nation, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said Sunday that his government was "deeply troubled and outraged" over the "trumped-up charges" against Suu Kyi.
"We urge the government of [Burma] to resolve the matter speedily and to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally," he said.
Normally, members of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Burma, refrain from criticizing one another.
Exactly why Yettaw, of Falcon, Missouri, swam across the lake to see Suu Kyi remains unclear. After leaving, he was fished out of the lake by authorities about 1.2 miles from her residence and taken into custody.
His wife, Betty Yettaw, described her husband as eccentric but peace-loving and "not political at all."
According to his ex-wife Yvonne Yettaw, he said he went to Asia to work on a psychology paper about forgiveness.
She said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a head wound during his military service.
While Yettaw was in Thailand, "[Burma] caught his attention," she said. "There really is not politics behind this. He does not have a political agenda and meant her absolutely no harm."
His former wife said Yettaw belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons, adding it was unlikely he was in Southeast Asia to proselytize for the church or convert the Nobel laureate.
But a police report on the case against Suu Kyi said that on an earlier visit to her house last November, he left a Book of Mormon, the religion's sacred text, in her compound "with intention for her to read (it)."
The report, made available by the Washington-based activist group U.S. Campaign for Burma, said on Yettaw's visit on May 3, Suu Kyi allowed him to stay at her residence until the night of May 5, speaking with him and providing him with food and drinks.