By KYAW ZWA MOE
Eventually, an apparently unwitting American citizen has helped the Burmese military regime find a way to extend the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi just before her current period of house arrest was set to expire on May 27.
The 63-year-old, pro-democracy leader was taken to Insein Prison early Thursday morning and charged with breaching the conditions of her house arrest, under Section 22 of the Law Safeguarding the State from Dangers of Subversive Elements.
She was charged after an American, John William Yettaw, 53, was arrested last week for swimming across Inya Lake and intruding into her home where he remained for several days.
Suu Kyi will appear in count in the prison on Monday, and she could be sentenced to a maximum of five years.
Yettaw appeared in court in Insein Prison on Thursday and was charged with breaching security laws and with immigration violations. Kyi Win, Suu Kyi’s attorney, said, “Everyone is very angry with this wretched American. He is the cause of all these problems.”
That’s true, but only partly. Actually, Yettaw just gave the regime what it has been searching for: Any “reasonable” excuse to continue her detention before it expired on May 27, marking six years since May 2003 when her motorcade was attacked by a junta-backed mob in upper Burma, and she was detained under house arrest for the second time. She has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer said last month that according to Burmese law, she should be released on May 27. He’s correct technically, but the generals typically redo their own rules and laws, using them like a rubber band—to stretch and shrink at will.
For example, Suu Kyi was detained for the first time in 1989 under 10 (b) of the State Provision Act, under which a person could be detained for a maximum of three years. But one year later, the government changed the law to a maximum of five years. She was detained until 1995, a total of six years.
This is a critical moment for the generals, since they plan to hold a national election in 2010. If Suu Kyi was free, it would greatly complicate the election. In 1990, the junta held an election while she was under house arrest, believing the state-backed National Unity Party, formed by former members of the late dictator Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party, could win the election. Instead, Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy party won by landslide.
If Suu Kyi was set free this time, her most loyal supporters and the general public would return to the political activism of 1995 and 2002, when she actively led the NLD.
In light of that, the generals were searching for any excuse not to release her, in spite of their own law. Suddenly, they were presented with a golden opportunity following Yettaw’s misguided intrusion.
Yet, that’s not end of the story. In the long-term, there’s the issue of her viability as the icon of the pro-democracy movement. Here’s a relevant question: Is the junta deliberately manipulating events in hope that Suu Kyi will die from natural causes in detention, which—in this case—would not be natural at all?
Too farfetched, you say? The ruling generals in Naypyidaw, the capital, see the pro-democracy movement leader as an “enemy of the state.” She’s their No 1 enemy, the leader of the “destructive elements” that have sabotaged “the peace and stability of the country” and threaten their dictatorial rule.
So, is it out of the question that the generals would be happy if Suu Kyi died by natural causes or was so physically impaired she couldn’t lead the pro-democracy movement? The generals can’t assassinate her because of the counterproductive reaction from the international community, even from such loyal allies as China and Russia. But they can ensure that her medical treatment is lacking or dispensed at a minimum level.
You can judge for yourself regarding the incidents that unfolded last week at her lakeside house at No 54 University Avenue. Actually the house is not a real home, it’s a prison.
Suu Kyi was suffering from low blood pressure; she was dehydrated; she had difficulty eating. In short, she was ill again, but on the day her doctor was scheduled to visit her for her regular monthly checkup, he was barred and detained for questioning. Another doctor treated her with an intravenous drip the following day.
"We are worried about Suu's health,” said NLD spokesman Nyan Win last week.
“Authorities should allow free access of her doctor to give Suu the required medical treatment."
If you look at that incident, and similar others, in light of basic law and human rights you can see a pattern of willful negligence by the generals.
The fact is that Suu Kyi has been detained illegally for 14 years, with no just cause and only the minimum of proper medical care, which could lead to an early death or a premature loss her ability to function fully.
The access to proper medical treatment is a serious issue, but it pales now in comparison to the charges against her and her trumped-up trial.
There’s little doubt, the junta’s rubber-band laws will find a way to keep Suu Kyi in detention, preventing her from taking part in the 2010 election.
Burma’s ruling generals are smiling now as Suu Kyi’s show trial is set to begin, and the pro-democracy movement has been dealt another cruel blow.