May 18, 2009

What’s Going on with Aung San Suu Kyi, and What Can I Do?

For those who don’t know, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy, a political party founded in 1988 by activists opposed to the country’s ruling military dictatorship.  Suu Kyi won the right to be Prime Minister in a general election held in 1990, but the junta refused to acknowledge the results.  Her continued insistence on nonviolence in the struggle for democracy has earned her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.  In their citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote:

    Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma’s liberation leader Aung San and showed an early interest in Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest. After having long refrained from political activity, she became involved in “‘the second struggle for national independence” in Myanmar in 1988. She became the leader of a democratic opposition which employs non-violent means to resist a regime characterized by brutality. She also emphasizes the need for conciliation between the sharply divided regions and ethnic groups in her country. The election held in May 1990 resulted in a conclusive victory for the opposition. The regime ignored the election results. Suu Kyi refused to leave the country and since then, she has been kept under strict house arrest.Suu Kyi’s struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression.In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.         

Having spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest at her home on Lake Inya, she is now perhaps the most recognizable prisoner of conscience in the entire world.

Suu Kyi is in the news in a big way this week.  She was taken from her home, incarcerated in Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison, charged with violating the terms of her house arrest, and will soon stand for a military trail.  What happened?  The Washington Post and The New York Times have full reports on what’s going on. Here’s the bit from the Post:

Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi was taken Thursday to Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, where she is expected to be tried on charges connected with an American man’s intrusion into the bungalow where she has been under house arrest for six years.Last week, military authorities said they had arrested a U.S. man, identified as John W. Yettaw, who had swum across Rangoon’s picturesque Lake Inya to reach Suu Kyi’s dilapidated lakefront bungalow and allegedly had stayed there overnight.The authorities said that Yettaw was arrested as he swam away from the compound and that he was carrying his passport, some currency, a flashlight, a pair of pliers and a camera.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is “deeply troubled” by the news, and has called for Suu Kyi’s immediate release.  Amnesty International issued a press release saying that the U.N. Security Council should call for her immediate release as well.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, through his spokesperson, said he was”gravely concerned about the news that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved to the Insein Prison to face criminal charges…[She] is an essential partner for dialogue in Myanmar’s national reconciliation and [I call] on the government not to take any further action that could undermine this important process.”

In addition, the BBC has profiled Yettaw, and the Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press have reported on him as well.

Al Jazeera English also spoke to Aung Zaw, editor of the exile newsmagazine The Irrawaddy, for an insider’s perspective on the situation.

So, what can you do about this?  I recommend taking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s advice and “using your liberty to promote the liberty of those in Burma.”  Both the Burma Campaign U.K. and the U.S. Campaign for Burma have urgent actions at their websites.  Follow the links below to sign your name to them:

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