The recent political trials in Iran and Burma have raised several questions on the motives of these trials. There could be several levels of analysis, and similarities and differences could be drawn between the trials of political prisoners in Iran and the political prisoners in Burma.
Considering the Burmese context first, the house arrest of NLD (National League for Democracy) leader Aung San Suu Kyi ended in yet another farcical trial that placed her on 18 months house arrest for violating terms of the arrest. It seems the verdict was originally for three years and General Than Shwe reduced it to 18 months as a token of 'generosity'. The entire trial and its verdict and again the change of verdict is a farce with Than Shwe trying to prove his greatness when all he has been doing is putting up a trial for his own political ends. And this is downright cowardice. The Burmese junta knows that if Suu Kyi is released, before the elections of 2010, she will have complete support of the Burmese people. Yet, despite being cowards and foolish, as Than Shwe and his party members are, they do have some insight that they can never win an election against Suu Kyi, who has keen political acumen. Than Shwe stands nowhere in political acumen, strategic sharpness and the greatness of Suu Kyi. This makes Than Shwe a very uneasy and unequal opponent and to make up for the lack of acumen and strategy, he resorts to cowardly use of power to obstruct the plans of the opposition.
Than Shwe and the Burmese military regime have put up the trail of Suu Kyi for three reasons
1. To prove their legitimate power on Burma and its people and to intimidate Suu Kyi supporters.
2. To restrain Suu Kyi from contesting the next general multi party elections in 2010
3. To prove the legitimacy of the decision and to provide a legal basis on which Suu Kyi could be arrested, as her arrests lead to strong international protests.
There are however three more equally potent reasons that would suggest why these objectives would never be met
1. By repeatedly placing Suu Kyi under House arrest, Than Shwe seems to prove his weakness as a political leader rather than his strength. This sort of trial shows the desperation of the Burmese regime
2. The elections of 2010 without Suu Kyi will only be manipulated by the regime and cannot be the complete or real mandate of the Burmese people. This will bring in greater international and national resentment against the current regime
3. The entire trial being sham and farcical has exposed another dimension of Than Shwe's government and strengthens the argument that the regime is holding power unlawfully and against the will of the people
This sort of trial has been put up on exhibition for the world to see and such trials are usually shown as a symbol of power of the current government and the government is made victorious as a proof that they have legitimate control over the state and its people. However instead of power, these trials actually represent the weakness of any government as governments resort to desperate measures of show and sham trials when they are incapable of politically confronting opponents. Yet these trials are meant to provide an illusion about the power of the state and the verdicts are almost always in favor of governments. The government is afraid enough of the opposition so instead of confronting on the political battle ground, governments try backdoor, underhanded and almost geurilla tactics against the opposition to overpower them with physical rather than intellectual or political force.
In Suu Kyi's case, this has been done to prevent any possibility of her contesting 2010 elections which could presumably assure a definite win for her party. So in other words, the Than Shwe government is afraid of Suu Kyi's power. The world leaders have condemned the sham trial of Suu Kyi but have not yet taken enough action to overthrow the Burmese military regime. European sanctions against Burma have also toughened but they are more likely to affect the Burmese people rather than the military leaders. One question is why despite all this, there is no uprising in Burma on the scale that can overthrow the military rulers. The Monks' uprising (Saffron Revolution) in 2007 led to the arrest of more political members of the NLD and many of them continue to serve prison terms.
In Burma the trial has been of a prominent personality whereas in Iran the situation is slightly different. In Iran, more than a hundred journalists and reformists, embassy officials and Iranian opposition activists have been put on trial on grounds of spying and aiding plans to overthrow the Iranian regime. The main motive of the trials is to deter anyone from supporting future protest movements against the Ayatollah and the government. In June this year, thousands of Iranians rallied against the presidential election results, and defied Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's endorsement of President Ahmadinejad. Iran has also arrested citizens of United States and Britain allegedly to put pressure on the West. However this strategy could surely backfire and instead of the Iranians putting a pressure on the west, the Americans and Europeans could put pressure on Iran to release their citizens. The Iranian government has three purposes for these trials -
1. to promote anti western sentiment by showing how the opposition activists and embassy officials have tried to plot against the country and its people,
2. to show the power of the government in order to intimidate the Iranian people and discourage them from any future protests against election results.
3. To divert attention from the real Nuclear weapons issue and focus media attention on trials of the people
There are however drawbacks to these political motives as the same reasons for which the Iranian regime have set up these show trials could be used as sufficient grounds for international action or condemnation, so these motives could actually bring just the opposite results of what the government expects.
This is because instead of an anti western sentiment, the trials could harm the support of people and actually lead to pro western sentiment among the Iranian people and possibilities of further repercussions. The government's forced show of power may look deliberate and desperate to the Iranian people and they may actually perceive the government as afraid of the people. The trials could bring Iran on the political map yet again for all the wrong reasons and redirect attention to the international issue of Nuclear weapons thus making Iran's relations with the West and the UN even more difficult.
In both the cases of Burma and Iran, tougher political action by the international community is necessary as only sanctions may not be effective. There should be legal and social actions against such governments and the EU and US leaders should work together to defeat the purposes of such regimes.