The verdict handed down by the Insein Prison Court on Tuesday found the Nobel Laureate and key opposition leader guilty of violating the terms of her house arrest. The only significant rival to the ruling junta has been consigned to another 18 months of house arrest.
The scene in the court was very theatrical. First, Thaung Nyunt, the puppet judge, stated the anticipated sentence "three years in prison with hard labor." Next, the junta's Home Minister, Maung Oo, read out an order from Senior General Than Shwe, commuting the sentence to 18 months under house arrest.
Than Shwe cautiously adjusted the sentence to deliver the word that he is not a stupid villain and he does not want to quarrel with the international community. But his attempt was in vain. In essence, Than Shwe wanted the Lady to remain in custody until after the 2010 election. In fact, what both the international community and the people of Burma want is to free Aung San Suu Kyi immediately without any condition.
The verdict was strongly opposed by a group of Nobel Laureates including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. "This illegal verdict is just one more instance of the junta's contempt for justice, security and democracy for the Burmese people," pronounced Nobel Laureate Jody Williams.
The group of Nobel Laureates demanded that the U.N. Security Council investigate "war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed by the military junta that rules Burma.
The leaders of Britain, France and the United States all strongly condemned the 18-month sentence as contempt for justice and the trial as a sham. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to renewed calls for her immediate release.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated, "This is a purely political sentence designed to prevent her from taking part in the regime's planned elections next year."
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Both Obama and Clinton called on the Burmese regime to heed the views of its own people and the international community and to work toward genuine national reconciliation. Otherwise, the elections scheduled for next year will have absolutely no legitimacy.
"The EU will respond with additional targeted measures against those responsible for the verdict," the European Union's Swedish presidency said in a statement on behalf of the 27-nation bloc. An EU source said that a "written procedure" had been launched to beef up the sanctions which could come into force as early as Friday if there was no disagreement from the bloc's members.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that Aung San Suu Kyi's continuous detention was "unjustified and unacceptable on all accounts."
On Thursday, Thailand, as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, issued a statement calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including opposition leader Suu Kyi, to enable them to participate in the general election next year.
The United Kingdom supports Thailand's call for the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners from detention, British ambassador to Thailand Quinton Quayle said after a meeting with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajira on Thursday. Quayle said that the European Union and the United Nations were considering imposing sanctions that would be aimed not at Burma but at the Burmese government, especially the military.
Four U.N. appointed human rights experts joined the calls for Suu Kyi's immediate release. The experts said that the court was biased, the charges lacked substance and the trial was illegal. The global body's investigators for arbitrary detention, freedom of expression, human rights defenders and human rights in Myanmar (Burma) say the Nobel Peace Laureate was convicted by Myanmar's military junta in a "baseless trial" meant only to exclude her from elections next year.
Article 121 (a) of the junta's 2008 Constitution asserts that "a person serving a prison term or having been convicted of an offense shall not be entitled to be elected as a parliamentarian." That makes it obvious that the Lady will not be eligible to contest the upcoming election.
The time is right for the United Nations to take practical follow-up steps. The Security Council must establish a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity and impunity in Burma. The Security Council should take similar steps with regard to Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The international community, led by the United Nations, should keep in mind that in a 2003 attack on Suu Kyi and her supporters, known as the Depayin incident, the junta's chief Than Shwe was the key criminal and Suu Kyi and her supporters were the victims.
There is a strong conflict of interest between the military junta and the grassroots population. To the military autocrats, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is a menace to peace and stability; to the majority population of the country the Lady represents hope for change. Her intolerable continued incarceration is not merely a matter of law and order. It represents the autocracy annihilating the political aspirations of the people of Burma, who strongly support reconciliation and change.
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