Ms. Kyi Vs. Myanmar’s Vicious Junta

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The army regards Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi a thorn in its side. As a pro-democracy advocate and leader of the NLD, she has spent more than 11 of the past 19 years in detention under the junta’s vigilant eye. She has been continually in house arrest or prison while her supporters sometimes took to the streets to protest the dire conditions of the country

[Global News Commentary]

“Tyranny has no race, no class, no religion, no nation, or [ethnic group].”--Murdered Congo leader Patrice Lumumba (1960)

While the world is distracted by North Korea’s outlaw rocket tests, Iran’s nuclear posturing, and Pakistan’s inner turmoil, something terrible is going in a far corner of Asia.

The ruthless military junta of Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has finally decided to take on the human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi again. The country’s economic and political crisis is deepening as Ms. Kyi, the 63-year-old Nobel laureate, stands in court waiting to see if the army officials will show her mercy.

In an internationally condemned trial, Ms. Kyi’s legal team has complained to the judges, who only allowed one witness for the opposition leader’s defense. She is facing up to five years in prison on charges of violating the conditions of her house arrest after an American, John Yettaw, swam to her home last month.

(The trial has been adjourned until June 12 while a higher court hears a request from her lawyers to reinstate three witnesses a lower court barred, according to a media report).

National media has cried of an anti-Kyi conspiracy concerning Yettaw, a devout Mormon and a former U.S. military veteran, who told reporters that he was told in a dream by God that he had to warn her before she was assassinated. In the trial, the prosecution has called over 20 witnesses, blasting Ms. Kyi’s statements against the military regime.

Although the Association of Southeast Nations and the EU condemned her closed trial held in the infamous Insein prison, President Barack Obama directed his criticism toward the army in what he called “a show trial.” The proceedings will be concluded in several days.    

Myanmar’s military junta has ruled the country since 1962. It has an iron grip on the daily lives of its citizens and the opposition, excepting Ms. Kyi. Considered a dissident, she became head of the Burmese National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988, immediately launching a campaign against the army’s oppression. She is widely recognized as Myanmar’s legitimate leader following a 1990 victory by her political organization. However, the junta dismissed the results.

“The people of Burma are like prisoners in their own country, deprived of all freedom under military rule,” the soft-spoken Ms. Kyi said to the nation’s army officials.

Speaking on the rights of poor and women, Ms. Kyi aimed the force of her words to the traditional harsh customs and the rigid boundaries of economic class of her land: “Human beings the world over need freedom and security that they may be able to realize their full potential.…The value systems of those with access to power and of those far removed from such access cannot be the same. The viewpoint of the privileged is unlike that of the underprivileged.”

The army has long regarded Ms. Kyi a thorn in its side. As a pro-democracy advocate and leader of the NLD, she has spent more than 11 of the past 19 years in detention under the junta’s vigilant eye. She has been continually in house arrest or prison while her supporters sometimes took to the streets to protest the dire conditions of the country. In 2007, the army crushed the last major demonstrations in September, 2007, after arresting her followers and hundreds of monks. 

Through it all, Ms. Kyi remains the beacon for any hope to equal rights for all in her economically depressed country. “The democracy process provides for political and social change without violence,” she said. “The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity. It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations.”

In 1991, she was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for her quest to bring democracy to her country. At the ceremony, UN officials called her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.” She is the daughter of the nation’s independence hero, General Aung San. She credits the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King as her inspirations for her work, speaking for democratic reform and free elections.   

What is different now in Myanmar?

The chief economic sectors in the country, such as tourism and farming, are at a low ebb, and the once-thriving business in its commercial hub of Yangon is waning. There is high unemployment, weak foreign investment, and a dwindling of its more successful domestic industries in the world due to the global recession. The poor are becoming poorer and even the rich are curtailing their excesses.

Now, the military junta figures it’s a good time to get rid of Ms. Kyi. “We understand that the international community has taken a great amount of interest in this trial, but in doing so, it has overlooked the important point of interference,” said a government official this week. “This is an internal legal issue, and it is not a human rights issue.” 

If the international community buys that lie, democracy will die with Ms. Kyi.


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Despite the long periods of confinement she's endured for the past 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi's commitment to the struggle for human rights has been an unmatched symbol of hope to the people of Myanmar and an inspiration to those dedicated to justice and human rights the world over.

We know that appealing to authoritarian rulers may seem like an uphill battle, but our partner Amnesty International has proven time and again that even military dictatorships and other repressive regimes are responsive when enough people around the world pressure them to act. Just last year, Ma Khin Khin Leh, another prisoner of conscience in Myanmar, obtained her release after Amnesty helped mobilize activists to send tens of thousands of letters on her behalf.

Suu Kyi is currently scheduled to go on trial this week. The time to act on her behalf is now.

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