May 15, 2009
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate, leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, elected leader of the Burmese civilian government in 1990, and political prisoner for 15 of the years since 1989, was accused on May 13 of violating the terms of her house arrest by the military government of Burma. Dr. Suu Kyi was transferred from her lakeside compound to Insein Prison along with two members of her household.
Dr. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989 after working to bring democratic elections to Burma. She was offered freedom if she left the country; she refused this condition. Under a Burmese military law called the State Protection Act, prisoners can be held for up to five years without charge or trial at the will of the government. Outside of a brief period from 1995 to 2000 and few months in 2002 and 2003, Dr. Suu Kyi has been held without charge for nearly 20 years.
But now the government has a formal criminal charge to bring against Dr. Suu Kyi: violating the terms of her house arrest. On May 3, an American swimmer, John William Yettaw, crossed the lake to Dr. Suu Kyi’s compound and requested food and a place to rest, exhausted from the mile-long swim. Burmese military authorities, who keep close watch on Dr. Suu Kyi’s compound, did nothing to stop Yettaw at this point. Dr. Suu Kyi allowed Yettaw to stay in her house until May 6, when he swam across the lake again. On the other side, the police were waiting for him.
On the strength of this incident, Dr. Suu Kyi has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest and has been transferred to Insein Prison, where she faces a five-year term.
Dr. Suu Kyi had fourteen more days under house arrest before the Burmese military government would have to either extend her term, or set her free. Not liking these alternatives, the government found a third solution.
It’s difficult at first to know what an individual can do about Dr. Suu Kyi’s arrest and unjust confinement that hasn’t already been done. World leaders, Nobel laureates, United Nations ambassadors, human rights activists around the world: all of these have come together to call for Dr. Suu Kyi’s release. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared her long house arrest illegal under both Burmese and international law. Despite all of this, the illegitimate Burmese military government has refused to respond, has even increased its pressure on Dr. Suu Kyi and other activists for democracy in Burma.
But, as Dr. Suu Kyi proves, it’s on individuals that the success of any movement ultimately depends. Spread the word about Dr. Suu Kyi’s arrest. Support some of the organizations—Freedom Now, US Campaign for Burma$mdash;that are working to spread awareness of her imprisonment, that are working to bring an end to the illegitimate dictatorship of Burma, and that are continuing the humanitarian work that Dr. Suu Kyi has been prevented from doing directly for most of the past 20 years. And take a look at some of the resources publicly available on our web page for Dr. Suu Kyi’s book, The Voice of Hope, to learn more about Dr. Suu Kyi’s long nonviolent struggle—and the optimism and faith that still lies at the heart of it.