Wednesday, June 3, 2009

After The Lady Is Jailed

The Irrawaddy News

Closing arguments and a verdict in the trial of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been delayed again. But that won’t change the outcome.

Ignoring global outrage and international diplomatic pressure, the court in Insein Prison will find the Nobel Peace Prize laureate guilty of “harboring” an American tourist who allegedly swam across Inya Lake to her residence.

She will be sentenced for up to five years behind the walls of one of the world’s most notorious jails.

Assuming that imprisonment in Insein would be unbearable for anyone, we are forced to contemplate how long a frail 63-year-old woman can survive in this hell-hole.

Brought up in relative comfort, she will be in the hands of ill-mannered and thuggish prison authorities. Her living conditions could be comfortable though degrading; but they could also be inhumane. Her diet and level of physical comfort will be drastically depreciated.

By treating her as any other political prisoner, the sadistic generals of Naypyidaw no doubt hope to break her spirit as well as her health.

Already suffering from low blood pressure, dehydration and digestion problems prior to her arrest, many believe the democracy icon will suffer more bouts of ill-health in jail.

Last week, a statement by her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said it was "gravely concerned" about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's health, saying she cannot sleep well because she was suffering from leg cramps.

"As a woman, I have concerns about her," Khin Ohmar, a leading exiled activist, said during a recent interview with The Irrawaddy. "She is going to be 64 …I can imagine the extent to which she can receive healthcare when she has the health problems that a woman usually has. I can imagine the hatred she receives under the junta’s atrocious behavior."

No doubt. A weakened Suu Kyi means a collapsing NLD and this is exactly what Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his gang desire.

Political observers have suggested that in prosecuting Suu Kyi on a trivial security clause, the Burmese junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through the 2010 elections and this has finished off any faint hopes of breaking the political stalemate.

In a policy statement dubbed the “Shwegondaing Declaration” released in early May, the NLD indicated that it would take part in elections next year if the junta responds positively to a set of three basic requirements: the unconditional release of all political prisoners; amendment of any provisions in the 2008 constitution “not in accord with democratic principles”; and an all-inclusive, free and fair poll under international supervision.

Now it seems clear that the party that won a landslide victory in the 1990 polls is being given no alternative but to boycott the junta's rigged elections.

"If the military government unfairly finds Daw Aung San Suu Kyi guilty, all means and possibilities for people and political parties to participate in the 2010 election will be undermined," Win Tin, a veteran journalist and prominent opposition leader of the NLD, told The Irrawaddy.

However, the boycott option is not straightforward—it represents a serious threat to the political parties, especially the NLD.

According to the 1990 election law, a political party which can not provide candidates for at least three constituencies must disband. After disbanding, the military would not hesitate to crack down on the members, regardless of the reaction of the international community—the UN Security Council or anyone else.

If the party is abolished by the military government, it is believed that most of party's elder leaders would resign in order to avoid imprisonment while many younger members would flee into exile or face arrest.

Due to a fear that security forces will raid the party's headquarters in Rangoon sometime soon, sources close to the NLD have said the party's central executive members want to quickly utilize the party's fund on anti-poverty programs, especially humanitarian projects in the delta region devastated by deadly Cyclone Nargis last year.

These days, pro-democracy supporters in Burma feel helpless and hopeless, knowing that so many would fear taking to the streets in defiant protest against the injustice perpetuated against a woman most love and respect.

In a country where torture and violence are institutionalized by ruling authorities, many people are still living in fear and are haunted by the memories of the government's bloody crackdown against the Buddhist monk-led uprising in 2007.

A Rangoon-based businessman recalled his experience of how Burmese are afraid of the military government. He said that Rangoon used to be very noisy with car horns, but when Rangoon's municipal authorities announced that whoever honked their horn would be “punished severely,” he said. “Immediately Rangoon fell into silence.”

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