She is the symbol of the democracy movement in Myanmar but Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for five years. A US lawyer has called for her release this weekend. He says her house arrest cannot be extended in accordance with the country’s laws. But there is doubt whether Aung San Suu Kyi will be released at this sensitive point in time for Myanmar’s increasingly unpopular junta.
Aung San Suu Kyi is due to be released from house arrest on May 24 but observers doubt she will be
The Nobel peace prize laureate was arrested in May 2003. She was deemed “a threat to the sovereignty and security of the State and the peace of the people.” Every year since, her house arrest has been extended by twelve months.
But Burmese law stipulates that a person cannot be kept for more than five years without trial. A US lawyer, Jared Genser, who was reportedly hired by Aung San Suu Kyi’s family, said she must be released on Saturday 24th May because her house arrest was last extended on May 25th last year. Observers were still unsure how the junta would react to this demand.
The generals are under extreme international pressure, having come under fire for their inadequate response to the devastating cyclone, which hit Myanmar earlier this month.
On Sunday, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are co-hosting an international donor conference, which US lawyer Genser wants Aung San Suu Kyi to attend.
“I am no more free than anyone else”
But experts doubt the junta will run the risk of releasing the 62-year-old democracy movement leader at this sensitive moment in time. They expect her house arrest to be renewed in violation of the law.
Last time Aung San Suu Kyi was released, over five years ago, she expressed her views of freedom and her solidarity with her people to the BBC "I am no more free than anyone else in this country.”
“On the other hand,” she said, “I’ve always regarded myself as a perfectly free human being because I’ve always decided that it is I who makes my choices. Nobody can force me to do anything. But on the other hand, from a political point of view, from the point of view of the law, of the administration, I am no more free than anyone else in Burma and certainly one cannot say that the people of Burma are free.”
Aung San Suu Kyi refused several proposals to leave the country. She did not even attend her husband’s funeral in the United Kingdom out of fear she would not be let back into the country.
Dialogue rather than confrontation
After the crackdown on peaceful protests last September, the generals began a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi. She met a representative from the junta several times but details about the talks have not been released.
Aung San Suu Kyi has always advocated dialogue rather than confrontation: "It’s not a matter of putting pressure on the junta as such but of guiding them towards the right route, which is actually the best route for Burma,” she said several years ago but her aims have not changed.
“It’s very important that we make clear the fact that we are trying to do is build up a country that will be a happier home for everybody, including the junta.”
12 out of 18 years in detention
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent twelve of the past eighteen years in detention. In 1988, she returned to Myanmar after a period of study at Oxford and several years abroad to become the leader of the opposition pro-democracy movement.
Her party -- the National League for Democracy -- won an overwhelming majority in 1990 elections. But the junta did not recognise this victory. Soon Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest again. In 1991, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is because of her popularity and influence that the junta is unlikely to release Aung San Suu Kyi this weekend, just as the whole world has its eyes on the country that has been so ravaged by Cyclone Nargis and on the generals who have demonstrated such neglect in the wake of the disaster.