A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to three years in prison, a sentence which was immediately reduced to a year and half under house arrest. The verdict was handed down in the country’s infamous Insein prison, where she was held since her arrest last May. If this shameful verdict will lead to wider unrest remains to be seen. There were apparently at least 2,000 security personnel deployed around Insein prison.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a prisoner of conscience, locked up solely for her political beliefs. She should be released immediately and unconditionally. As we have recently seen through the release of Ma Khin Khin Leh (who was serving a life sentence!), only sustained campaigning for individuals at risk will have an impact.
20 years of oppression
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was on trial for allegedly violating the terms and conditions of her house arrest. The leader of the Myanmar opposition party, the National League for Democracy, was arrested shortly before her house detention order was to expire on 27 May 2009
She has been detained for over 13 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. Her first period in detention began in July 1989 as the Myanmar government intensified its crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests that began a year earlier.
Amnesty International announced on 27 July that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been awarded its most prestigious honor – the “Ambassador of Conscience” Award for 2009.
Over 2,100 political prisoners
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the most prominent of over 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar. Many are held in poor conditions, and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Conditions in Myanmar’s prisons are harming the health of many political prisoners. Access to medical treatment is severely limited. Many prisoners are denied adequate food and are therefore malnourished.
Judicial proceedings show no regard for due process, and many trials have been held in special closed courts. Since October 2008, when the government began sentencing en masse those who had peacefully taken part in major anti-government protests in August and September 2007, more than 350 political activists have been jailed.
Some of these political activists have been given lengthy jail terms – one being sentenced to 104 years in November 2008, while 23 others were sentenced to 65 years.
We have recently highlighted ten individual cases in order to demonstrate the ongoing political repression in Myanmar in the last two decades.
A long list of crimes
Today’s guilty verdict can only be added to the already long list of the junta’s crimes. In addition to locking up political dissidents and violently oppressing peaceful protests, the atrocities committed against ethnic minorities amount to crimes against humanity, as Amnesty International has documented. Additionally, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has used high resolution satellite images to document human rights abuses in eastern Burma.