Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Junta faces mounting pressure as Aung San Suu Kyi awaits fate

by Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - The special court in the notorious Insein prison will pronounce the verdict on the trial of Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday as international pressure on the junta mounts to release her.

On Monday night in the Irish capital of Dublin, Bono lead singer of the famous British rock band U2, announced that Aung San Suu Kyi had been awarded Amnesty International's most prestigious honour – she had been made the organization’s “Ambassador of Conscience” for 2009.

“As powerful a voice and as strong a leader in these times, as Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were in theirs... is Aung San Suu Ky,” he told some 80,000 cheering fans, as the band played 'Walk On' -- a track written especially for Aung San Suu Kyi in 2001. Every night during the rest of the group’s current on the 360 tour, U2 plans to highlight her plight during their performances and play 'Walk On'.

U2 has been a long-time campaigner on Aung San Suu Kyi’s behalf. Their lead singer, Bono has been associated with many human rights causes in the past, and the group was previously awarded the title, which was introduced by Amnesty six years ago. Past winners of the award include Vaclav Havel (former Czech president and political prisoner), Nelson Mandela (former South African leader and political prisoner) and the former Irish president and head of the UN’s human rights body, Mary Robinson.

It was inspired by a poem written for Amnesty International by the Nobel Laureate for Literature Seamus Heaney, the award aims to promote the organisation through the life, work and example of its 'Ambassadors'.

Amnesty International’s award and U2’s renewed campaign comes at time when the pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate faces a further term in detention. She has been charged with flouting the conditions of her house arrest, when she gave food and shelter to an uninvited and unwanted visitor, an American Vietnam war veteran, John William Yettaw who swam across the lake behind her residence to get entry to her compound.

While the trial has been anything but free, Amnesty insists the real issue is she should never have been arrested in the first place – not have ever been in detention. “It is not a question of whether the proceedings are fair or not, she should never have gone on trial in the first place – it’s a form of political and legal theatre,” Amnesty’s Bangkok-based Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki said in an interview with Mizzima. “As a prisoner of conscience she should be released immediately.”

Amnesty International’s campaign for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi has been endorsed by hundreds of the world’s political leaders, human rights advocates, writers and entertainment personalities. One of those who have joined the campaign is the former UN human rights rapporteur for Burma, Professor Paulo Pinheiro. “These current charges are a complete and crude fabrication, a pretext to keep Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for as long as possible,” he recently told Mizzima.

Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. Her latest detention began in May 2003, after she and her supporters were attacked by pro-junta thugs while travelling in central Burma. She was first arrested in July 1989 and spent six years under house until she was released in 1995.

For the past five years she has been in virtual solitary confinement, being allowed only very occasional visits by her doctor and lawyer. The UN’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari has been able to see her six times in the past few years, but the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not permitted to see her during his two-day visit to the country earlier this month.

“It is appropriate that she should be given this award [Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience] almost 20 years since she began her long fight for human rights in Myanmar,” said Benjamin Zawacki. “Twenty years on and still in detention, she remains a beacon of hope for all Burmese people and the world as a whole,” he added.

As Bono poignantly pointed out as he accepted the award on Aung San Suu Kyi’s behalf earlier this week: “She has been under house arrest in her native Burma for most of the last 20 years.

Her crime is that if she was to participate in elections she would win.”

Within a matter of few days now, Aung San Suu Kyi will know her fate. "We are confident that we will win the case if things go according to the law,” her defence lawyer Nyan Win told reporters outside the court on Tuesday.

But of course in Burma the courts are not free of government interference, and it will certainly be political considerations which determine her future.

However few people – inside Burma and abroad -- believe there will any other verdict than guilty. “The trial has been entirely scripted and the end already decided before-hand,” the British Ambassador in Rangoon, Mark Canning told Mizzima after a rare occasion when he was allowed to attend the court hearing. Public sentiment echoes that of the diplomats.

“No one is in any doubt about the outcome,” said Moe Moe, a taxi driver in the country’s main commercial city. “Those men in green in Naypitdaw [the new capital some 400 kilometres north of Rangoon] know she is the peoples’ hero and the real leader of this country,” he added.

While international pressure is set to mount if she is found guilty, it is unlikely to have any impact on the top generals. “They have completely ignored all international concerns – and gone on with their devastating, shattering repression of all dissent – with extremely heavy sentences being handed down for the crimes of democratic protest,” said Mr Pinheiro.

Nevertheless Aung San Suu Kyi remains Burma’s beacon of hope for the future. And the international campaign supporting her and the democratic cause in Burma will continue to remind the junta, that while they may lock her up, try to silence her and prevent her from seeing visitors, the Burmese people and the world as a whole will not forget her and her heroic efforts on behalf of Burma’s fight for democracy and human rights. We are proud to announce … that Amnesty International has chosen Aung San Suu Kyi as the recipient of their Ambassador of Conscience Award 2009. Thank God for Amnesty International,” said Bono. “May God keep Aung Sang Suu Kyi safe.”

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