Sentenced: Aung San Suu Kyi

Activist in Myanmar Is Convicted

Associated Press

Police officers near the Insein prison in Yangon where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced Tuesday.


Published: August 11, 2009

BANGKOK — A court in Myanmar sentenced the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months of additional house arrest on Tuesday, ensuring that she would remain in detention, with limited communications, through a parliamentary election that is scheduled for next year.

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned pro-democracy leader, in Yangon in 1998.

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The sentencing stoked the anger the world has shown over the continued detention of a woman who has become a symbol of nonviolent resistance around the world. President Obama said the sentence violated “universal principles of human rights,” and rights groups and foreign governments called Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s conviction “reprehensible,” “brutal” and “monstrous,” and repeated their demand for the immediate release of her and an estimated 2,100 other political prisoners.

Playing up a moment of suspense, the court first sentenced Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 64, to three years of hard labor for violating the terms of the house arrest where she has spent 14 of the past 20 years. Moments later, in what may have been meant as a conciliatory gesture, it reduced the sentence and sent her home from the prison where she had been held since the trial began three months ago.

The case stemmed from a strange and now notorious incident in which an American adventurer swam across a lake on May 3 and spent two days at her villa, claiming that he had come to save her from assassination. The American, John Yettaw, 53, was sentenced to seven years of prison and hard labor for breaching the rules of her house arrest and for violations of immigration law and local ordinances. Mr. Yettaw, who had suffered recently from what were described as epileptic fits, was removed from the courtroom immediately after his sentence was read.

Two women who have lived with Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi during her house arrest received the same three-year sentence and the same commutation and were expected to return with her to her lakeside villa.

Mr. Obama, in a statement, said that the conviction and sentencing “on charges related to an uninvited intrusion” was “an unjust decision” and he said she and other political prisoners had been “denied their liberty because of their pursuit of a government that respects the will, rights, and aspirations of all Burmese citizens. They, too, should be freed. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.”

Speaking in Goma, Congo, where she is traveling, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “She should not have been tried. She should not have been convicted. We continue to call for her release.”

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called on the junta to “immediately and unconditionally release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to engage with her without delay as an essential partner in the process of national dialogue and reconciliation.”

The European Union said it would seek to impose new economic sanctions, and Britain demanded an arms embargo. Sanctions like these have been largely symbolic over the years as Myanmar has continued to trade with China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

Fourteen winners of the Nobel Peace Prize called on the United Nations Security Councilto investigate “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed by the military junta. Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi won the prize in 1991. Meanwhile, the sentencing of Mr. Yettaw drew condemnation and concern from the United States. Mr. Obama’s statement called it “out of proportion with his actions.”

Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, called the sentence “cruel,” and said, “We remain gravely concerned about his health and the harsh sentence imposed upon him.”

His lawyer, U Khin Maung Oo, speaking by telephone after the verdict, said, “He’s a man of mental and physical courage.”

The lawyer said would file an appeal on behalf of Mr. Yettaw. “He only asked me to try to do anything that ‘will help me to get out of here.’ ”

Looking composed and engaged after the verdict was read, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi thanked the two dozen foreign diplomats in the courtroom for their support and, according to one, said, “Hopefully we can work closely together for the peace and prosperity of my country and the rest of the world.” The election set for next year will for the first time put a civilian face on the military leadership that has ruled Myanmar, formerly Burma, since a coup in 1962 while also assuring the continued dominance of the military in politics and power.

In the eyes of the generals, it would supersede an election in 1990 that they annulled when Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won more than 80 percent of the seats. Many of the party’s winning candidates have since been imprisoned.

When the judge read out the sentence of hard labor, according to a European diplomat, there was a stunned moment during which an unspoken reaction was, “How can they do this?”

Then the home minister, Gen. Maung Oo, stepped forward and read a statement of commutation from the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, whose personal antagonism toward Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has become legendary among analysts of Myanmar.

The senior general said he was reducing the sentence because of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s heritage as the daughter of the country’s assassinated independence hero, U Aung San; in the interests of the country’s “peace and tranquility”; and in a gesture of better personal relations, the European diplomat said.

“It was carefully calibrated to deliver the word that ‘I am a reasonable man and I’ve listened to what the international community said and here is proof of this,’ ” the diplomat said.

For many, though, the verdict sent an opposite message.

“This trial was a farce, a brutal distortion of the legal process,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “By silencing prominent opponents through bogus trials, the generals are clearly showing why the elections they have been touting for next year won’t bring change.”

Mark McDonald contributed from Hong Kong.


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