Aung San Suu Kyi seeks peaceful change in Burma

By staff writers
15 Nov 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi wants to see a peaceful or 'velvet' revolution in Burma, but she and her supporters are trying to judge the situation carefully as they act for change.

In a BBC one-on-one interview conducted by correspondent John Simpson after the public press conference following her release over the weekend, the Burmese democracy leader stressed that the transformation she wants to see should avoid violence and take the people with the process.

There is uncertainty about how the Generals will respond to public calls for radical change, or what their motivation for freeing Aung San Suu Kyi is. It is believed that some recognise that a shift towards a more democratic settlement is needed, while others believe that the world-acclaimed opposition leader is a spent force and that those against the regime are divided.

Mr Simpson's interview was broadcast internationally on BBC television tonight, and he spoke to the Radio 4 Today programme about it in the morning.

Meanwhile, in welcoming the release of Ms Suu Kyi yesterday (Sunday 14 November 2010), international human rights group Amnesty International formally called on the government of Myanmar (Burma) to immediately release all of the prisoners of conscience in the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s best-known prisoner of conscience, has spent more than 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest. She was one of more than 2,200 political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, currently being held in deplorable conditions for simply exercising their right to peaceful protest.

“While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is certainly welcome, it only marks the end of an unfair sentence that was illegally extended, and is by no means a concession on the part of the authorities”, said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty.

“The fact remains that authorities should never have arrested her or the many other prisoners of conscience in Myanmar in the first place, locking them out of the political process”.

The Nobel Peace laureate had been detained since 30 May 2003 after government-backed thugs attacked her motorcade in Depayin, killing an unknown number of people, and injuring scores. This was the third time she was held under house arrest, having been previously detained from 1989 to 1995 and from 2000 to 2002.

“This time the authorities must ensure Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security”, declared Salil Shetty.

“It is high time the government of Myanmar put an end to the ongoing injustice of political imprisonment in the country, while the international community - including China, India, ASEAN and the UN - must act together to prevent Myanmar from abusing its legal system to penalise peaceful opponents. The release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must not make them forget other prisoners of conscience”.

There are more than 2,200 political prisoners in Burma still held under vague laws frequently used by the government to criminalise peaceful political dissent. They are being held in grim conditions, with inadequate food and sanitation. Many are in poor health and do not receive proper medical treatment.

Many were tortured during their initial interrogation and detention, and still risk torture as a punishment at the hands of prison officers. Amnesty International says it believes the vast majority of those held are prisoners of conscience who are being punished merely for peacefully exercising their rights to free expression, assembly, and association.

A good number of those still being held took part in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, sparked by protests against sharp fuel and commodity price rises.

In the past three years, hundreds of political prisoners have been moved to extremely remote prisons, restricting their access to relatives, lawyers and medical care. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment are rife.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been denied access to prisons in Myanmar since December 2005.

Just two weeks before her detention order was due to expire in 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi was again arrested and charged with violating the terms of her house arrest.

On 11 August 2009, after a trial widely condemned by the international community, she was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, which was later commuted to 18 months’ house arrest.

Her release comes just six days after the first general elections in Myanmar in 20 years, which were held against a backdrop of political repression.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the majority of seats in those 1990 elections, but were prevented from taking power by Myanmar military leaders who have controlled the country for decades.

[Ekk/3]

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