Monday, August 10, 2009

Asia's leaders condemn Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention

by Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - As Aung San Suu Kyi awaits her fate at the hands of the Burma’s military regime, more Asian leaders are lending their voices to the international demand for her immediate release. The judges are scheduled to announce the verdict on Tuesday in the court inside Insein prison where she is on trial for allegedly breaking the conditions of her house arrest when she gave food and shelter to an uninvited American intruder, who swam to the back of her lakeside residence. If she is found guilty, she faces a maximum of five years in jail. She has already spent more than 13 of the last 20 years in detention.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued detention shames all of Asia,” the former South Korean president and fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Kim Dae Jung said recently. It is a travesty of justice that cannot be tolerated by the international community he added. “Burma’s authoritarian rulers have suppressed the people for too long.”

Kim Dae Jung and the former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim have both joined the campaign urging concerted international action on behalf of the detained Burmese opposition leader. They were amongst more than a hundred former political prisoners who signed a statement released on the eve of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birtday, (on 19 June), calling for her release and for the United Nations Security Council to establish a global arms embargo on Burma. The political prisoners signed the statement as part of the continuing campaign organised by Amnesty International to draw attention to Aung San Suu Kyi’s plight,

Amnesty International believes that the participation of key Asian political personalities like Anwar and Kim shows that Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued unjustified detention is an international concern – not just that of Europe and the United States.

“The willingness of Anwar Ibrahim and Kim Dae Jung to join the campaign to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's other political prisoners is critically important, as it gives the lie to the notion -- voiced most often by the generals in Myanmar and their defenders in China and Russia -- that Daw Suu Kyi is a concern only of the West,” Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty’s Bangkok-based Burma researcher told Mizzima.

“ASEAN’s policy of non-intervention is not helping to serve regional interests,” said Anwar. “We need to work together in ASEAN for regional stability and prosperity. Political progress in Burma is an integral part of this, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners,” he said.

Anwar Ibrahim, whose official title is Dato' Seri Anwar, is currently the de facto leader of one of Malaysia’s main opposition parties Keadilan, the People’s Justice Party. Following mass protests calling for political reform in 1997, he was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and to another nine years for sodomy in 2009. He reportedly endured six years in solitary confinement. In 2004 his conviction was reversed and he was released. Subsequently the Malaysian government, fearing his popularity in the country brought fresh charges against him and his new trial is about to start.

Over the weekend Mizzima was able to conduct an exclusive interview with the Malayisan politician.

Q: What do you think of the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and what would you say if she is sentenced to jail?

A: The charges are contrived and have been made simply to deny Aung San Suu Kyi the freedom that she is entitled to and that has been denied to her for so many years. It is quite clear that the democratic contagion which is sweeping across Southeast Asia has made inroads into Myanmar such that the generals are fearful of what she can achieve as a free citizen leading her people. I think her continued imprisonment would be a tragedy for Myanmar and an embarrassment to the international community’s efforts to bring a measure of justice to Myanmar.

Q: What does Aung San Suu Kyi mean to you personally – do you draw inspiration from her courage; do you see a parallel with your own struggle and your own personal history?

A: She is an inspiration to all who struggle to free their country or people from the chains that bind them and who fight for freedom and justice. I see in her a reflection of the spirit of the late Cory Aquino whose memory we celebrate this week as one of Asia’s most heroic women leaders.

We are in a similar fight in Malaysia but it would not be accurate to say that conditions in Malaysia and Myanmar are similar. The situation is far worse in Myanmar. But I can empathise with her personal situation. We in Malaysia have fought hard against laws that deprive personal freedoms and permit detention without trial or due process, most recently in the demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur in August against the Internal Security Act.

Q: Why should the junta free her – of course it’s a human rights issue, but what is Burma and Asia missing out on by her continued detention?

A: The junta should free her because she is the leader of the democracy movement in her country. She is the legitimate choice of her people as expressed in an election that took place in 1990 whose results have been ignored by the junta. All of free Asia should join in one voice to press for Myanmar’s immediate transition to democracy. Isn’t 47 years of military rule long enough to be ended for a people willing and able to move out of the shadows of military dictatorship and economic stagnation?

Q: What can the international community do to get her released; do you agree with sanctions, or should there be renewed engagement?

A: The policy of constructive engagement has clearly failed as we see members of the junta and the generals deriving massive financial benefits from contracts and business deals without any inclination to change repressive policies and redress the massive denial of basic human rights of the people of Myanmar. It is critical that the centers of power in Asia take a firm stand on this issue. India, China, Japan and the Asean bloc must be vocal in condemning the ongoing persecution of Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners held in Myanmar. Along with the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, the international community must make common cause in pressuring the junta to agree to a timetable for Myanmar’s transition to democratic rule. Pressure – diplomatic, political and cultural – should be applied but not economic sanctions as they would impoverish an already beleaguered people.

Anwar and Kim are being joined by many more voices throughout Asia, as Aung San Suu Kyi faces the grim prospect of another five years in jail. “The issue isn't the freedom of a single woman, or even of 2,160 other political prisoners, but the advancement of human rights that are as important in Malaysia and South Korea as they are in Myanmar -- or the West. It is indeed the international community that is demanding change in Myanmar,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

The top general Than Shwe must be in doubt that the eyes of the world are watching the current events in Burma, and if Aung San Suu Kyi is not released soon international pressure is set to increase further.

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