Monday, August 17, 2009

Mae Sot Reacts to Suu Kyi Verdict

The Irrawaddy News

News of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial verdict spread through Mae Sot’s Burmese community last week, sparking outrage at her extended 18-month house arrest.

Having read the news on the Internet, heard it on the radio or via word of mouth, everyone in Mae Sot was almost instantly aware that the democracy leader would spend the 2010 election campaign in her crumbling two-story house in Rangoon.

For many, Mae Sot acts is the bridge between the tight fists of the junta and Thailand’s democracy. Many political dissidents, who run the risk of lengthy prison sentences in Burma, flee to Mae Sot to operate in relative safety. As a result, many feel especially connected to their hero, Suu Kyi.

Political activists were deeply angered by the Insein Prison court’s verdict, seeing it as the work of a corrupt, dictatorial government.

“I think it is extremely unfair and a brutal act of the military regime,” said a leader of a prominent youth activist group. “It’s clearly all a trap, and we are likely to see trap after trap until the very end.”

In the lawyer community that has been forced to flee to Mae Sot as a result of challenging the junta’s legal system, many are fuming at the court proceedings.

“I am so angry with their behaviour” said Nyi Nyi Hlaing a prominent lawyer now working in Mae Sot. “They said no one is above the law, and then days later they act like they are above the law.”

“The verdict is not legal because they used the 1974 constitution law which was broken in 1988, so they don’t have any law to judge the case on,” said Nyi Nyi Hlaing.

“The government was not chosen by the 1974 constitution, making them an illegal government so they cannot judge Aung San Suu Kyi. I don’t need to say whether the verdict is illegal or not legal because the whole ordeal has been illegal since they arrested Suu Kyi.”

The same sentiments were reiterated by U Myo, a spokesman for the Burma Lawyer council.

“I think that the verdict is entirely wrong in a legal aspect and totally unfair,” said U Myo.

“The charge upon her itself is completely wrong since the responsibility lies upon the security personnel guarding her house.”

A major grievance among the lawyer community is Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s interference with the court proceedings, which they argue is an illegal act.

U Myo explained that the Criminal Procedure Code Section 401 (5) stipulates that only the president is allowed to exercise his or her power over the court.

“Than Shwe is not the president of state because the 2008 Constitution will come to life only after the first session of the 2010 Parliament” said U Myo. “So no one can affirm whether Than Shwe is president now. Thus he could not exercise the power in the said Code to put her under house arrest for one and half year. He has acted in total disregard of the judiciary and has interfered in a case which ought to be acquitted in higher courts. This verdict shows that there is no rule of law in Burma.”

Ko Bo Kyi, a joint-secretary of the Mae Sot-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, had another view on why Than Shwe intervened in the court proceedings.

“Than Shwe was just playing, because many high-ranking officers don’t agree with the verdict, and he wants to try to please them. He also wants other countries to be pleased and ease some of the pressure. Because he is an expert in psychological warfare, we can tell he is just doing it for psychological reasons not for the good of Burma.”

One of the major concerns in the Mae Sot activist community is that without Suu Kyi there can be no real democracy or fair elections in Burma.

“If Aung San Suu Kyi is not included in Burma’s political process, then Burma will not get peace and it will be difficult for national reconciliation” Ko Bo Kyi said.

The Karen communities have also followed the news closely, seeing Suu Kyi as the only way out of their decades-long conflict with the SPDC in Karen State. Although not all Karen wholeheartedly trust her, they see her as a beacon of hope that there may one day be national reconciliation.

David Thackrabaw, vice president of the Karen Nation Union, told The Irrawaddy that he saw the trial as “a plot by the junta to exclude Suu Kyi from the coming election.”

“Her verdict has created even more mistrust of the junta because they cannot treat the Burmese political organizations fairly, so it’s absolutely sure that they will not treat the ethnic organizations fairly” he said.

For the KNU and all Karen people her continued detention is a sign that Karen will continue to be pitted against Karen, all for the benefit of the SPDC. It’s also a sign that thousands of villagers will continue to flee the armed clashes, leaving behind everything they know and own to settle on Thai soil.

News of the trial has spread through the refugee camps surrounding Mae Sot. An English teacher working in the Mae La refugee camp told The Irrawaddy he was surprised to hear that so many of his students had already heard about the verdict.

Asked how she felt about Suu Kyi being sent back to house arrest, a 20-year-old Karen girl said that she “felt so sorry because she is an old lady, but we are not surprised because she is such a massive threat to the generals.”

The migrant worker community that has settled in Mae Sot, forced out of Burma as a result of economic hardships, see their future as being closely tied with the future of Suu Kyi.

“If Suu Kyi is released then all our country’s problems will be resolved” said a woman from Mon State who works in a knitting factory. “If she is freed and is our leader, then I can leave Thailand and live happily in Burma with my family.”

News of the verdict also swept through the brothels in Mae Sot. Like other migrant workers, sex workers left Burma with the hope of making money to send back to their family, but many young girls end up in the sex industry.

One 23-year-old sex worker from Karen State said doubted the government would allow Suu Kyi to participate in the elections even if she was released.

“We know the government is so unfair they will not share their power with her,” said the sex worker.

Even the poorest people in the Mae Sot community, people who work in the rubbish dump to make enough money to survive, have followed the events.

One woman from Karen State, who settled around the rubbish dump five years ago with her family, recalled how many people from the dump sat around a radio, waiting for the announcer to give the verdict.

“When they announced that Suu Kyi was to be sent back to house arrest, we got so angry we lost our minds and begun cursing the radio,” she said.

Mae Sot also has an artist community that followed the news closely.

Tee Lay Tee, a seven-man comedy troupe that was formed in 1998 with the help of the famous comedian Zarganar, who is now serving a 35-year prison sentence, performed at a large show in Rangoon in 2007 where they acted out a joke highlighting the government’s oppression. The Democratic Voice of Burma broadcasted the joke, forcing the group to flee to Thailand to avoid the same fate of their mentor, Zarganar

“When we were living in Burma, we were unable to make shows the way we wanted because there is no freedom of speech,” said a member of the group, now based in Mae Sot. “The moment we criticized the government even the slightest we were forced to leave behind our families and country to come to Thailand.”

He said Suu Kyi is so highly respected that even though the government sentenced her to further house arrest, it can only control her body and is unable to control her soul and the love she has from the Burmese people.

“The government can only imprison Suu Kyi’s body; it will never arrest her mind or spirit” he said.

The Burmese communities in Mae Sot continue to have high hopes for Suu Kyi and remain confident that she is the one person who can bring peace to Burma.

A construction worker summed up the feelings of many people who admire her.

“Like everyone I know in Mae Sot,” he said, “I would take her punishment any day so that she can save our country.”

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