Saturday, May 16, 2009

An ordeal without end

Bangkok Post Editorial

The renewed persecution of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has brought an angry and troubled response from world leaders. The outrage should come as no surprise to those who ordered her transfer and incarceration in Rangoon's Insein prison on a charge of violating her house arrest. Whether they will see reason and put an end to this continuing charade is another matter. We can only hope that wiser heads prevail.

It seems more than coincidence that this fresh trial, which could carry a five-year jail term, has been ordered just two weeks before the one-year extension to her years of house arrest was due to end. Alarmingly, it has come at a time when the 63-year-old Nobel laureate is suffering from low blood pressure, dehydration and other health problems, not helped by the absence of her doctor who was taken away for questioning earlier this week.

The charges against her are bizarre and illogical. They concern the actions of an American intruder at her home whose motives in allegedly swimming across a lake to reach her house are unknown. What is known is that she asked him to leave and that the Burmese authorities are responsible for security at the dilapidated lakeside home to which she had been confined as their prisoner. Yet her jailers are not the ones on trial. Surely they must realise that any intruder could have posed a threat to the person they were supposed to be guarding.

The events currently unfolding make it clear that the junta is determined to ensure that the elections it plans for next year as part of its ''roadmap to democracy'' suffer no disruption even if this involves a total disregard for human rights. Going to such extremes also lends credence to widely-held beliefs that the 2010 elections are merely a sham designed to perpetuate the status quo and entrench the military in power.

The Burmese authorities have already disqualified Mrs Suu Kyi from participating in the elections because her late husband was a foreigner. Now her very liberty appears to be considered a daunting threat to the state. Do the authorities not realise that by continually courting international condemnation and inflaming public opinion in their zeal to think up new ways to confine and harass her, they are taking a greater risk than that entailed in simply granting this courageous lady the freedom she deserves. The overwhelming paranoia and xenophobia which governs the junta's actions has already led to Burma being considered an embarrassment within Asean, ostracised by much of the world, condemned to economic sanctions and branded a human rights violator. Only in Burma could a pro-democracy icon whose party won a national election in 1990 be considered a threat to democracy.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says that Asean, currently chaired by Thailand, is ''concerned'' by the latest events in Burma. Singapore and Indonesia have echoed his words. Other world leaders and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have gone further, some much further. This is no surprise. Mrs Suu Kyi has earned respect for her courage, humanitarian ideals and quiet dignity. The world's most famous political prisoner is not known and revered as 'The Lady' for nothing.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi marks 13 years and 204 days spent in detention with another trial starting on Monday and no end to her ordeal in sight. A sad day, but one which carries the certainty that no matter what they subject her to, 'The Lady' will continue to give hope and inspiration to the people of Burma.

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