Friday, May 15, 2009

UN Leads Condemnation of Myanmar’s New Charges Against Suu Kyi

By By Michael Heath and Ed Johnson

(Bloomberg) -- The United Nations led international condemnation of new charges brought by Myanmar’s military junta against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and demanded her immediate and unconditional release.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner will stand trial next week accused of breaching the conditions of her house arrest order after an American national allegedly swam across a lake last week to visit her. Two of her maids also face trial.

“I call on the government of Myanmar to release Aung San Suu Kyi and her aides unconditionally,” UN human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana said in a statement yesterday. “Since her house is well guarded by security forces, the responsibility for preventing such intrusions” lies with them, he said.

Suu Kyi, 63, has spent 13 years in detention since her National League for Democracy party won 1990 elections in the country previously known as Burma, a result rejected by the military that has ruled since 1962. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Suu Kyi had been charged with a “baseless” crime.

“We oppose the regime’s efforts to use this incident as a pretext to place further restrictions on her, and therefore we call on the Burmese authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally,” Clinton said. She also called for the release of Suu Kyi’s doctor and more than 2,100 political prisoners.

Suu Kyi’s trial will begin May 18, nine days before her detention order is due to expire. She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if found guilty, Nyan Win, a spokesman for the NLD, said yesterday from the former capital, Yangon, after the hearing at Insein Prison.

The American national John Yettaw, was charged with breaching a security law, he said.

Security Breach

Yettaw was detained by police last week for entering Suu Kyi’s lakeside home and staying there for two days, according to state-run media. He arrived uninvited and Suu Kyi encouraged him to leave, Jared Genser, her U.S.-based legal counsel, said yesterday before the court hearing.

Myanmar authorities have described Yettaw as a 53-year-old former soldier from Detroit. The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said he arrived in Yangon on a tourist visa on May 2 and swam to Suu Kyi’s compound the following night. He was arrested in the early hours of May 6 while swimming back across the lake.

Authorities confiscated his passport, a black haversack, torch, folding pliers, a camera, two $100 bills and some Myanmar currency, according to the newspaper. They are investigating his motives for entering Suu Kyi’s home, it said.

China, India

Human Rights Watch called on China and India, Myanmar’s closest allies, to pressure the ruling generals to free Suu Kyi. The New York-based group said the charges against her are part of an intensified campaign against pro-democracy activists that has brought increased arrests as the regime seeks to crush the opposition before elections.

The junta plans a ballot in 2010 after passing a constitution last year that it said was backed by 92 percent of voters. The NLD and other groups have denounced the charter, which bars Suu Kyi from holding office.

“China, India, Singapore, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries should be calling for a genuine and participatory political process in Burma, which means serious public pressure for the release of political opponents,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Suu Kyi’s latest arrest shows how their silence simply encourages more contempt for basic freedoms,” she said in a statement.

Clinton, China

Clinton told reporters in Washington yesterday the U.S. wants a statement from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressing concern about the treatment of Suu Kyi. Myanmar is a member of the 10-member regional bloc.

The Obama administration will also raise the matter with nations “like China, and see if we can’t, on a humanitarian basis, seek relief for Aung San Suu Kyi from this latest effort to intimidate and perhaps even incarcerate her,” Clinton said.

Suu Kyi has been detained since May 2003 under a law that allows someone deemed a threat to national security to be held without charge, according to Genser, president of the U.S.-based Freedom Now (read below Call to UN... Scribd) group. The junta says it can detain her under the law for six years, or until May 27, he added.

The opposition leader has suffered from dehydration, low blood pressure and a loss of appetite over the past few weeks, Nyan Win said. She underwent gynecological surgery in 2003, needed hospital treatment in 2006 and suffered low blood pressure and was unable to leave her bed in September.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at; Ed Johnson in Sydney at

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