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Amnesty Barred From Seeing Aung San Suu Kyi

Amnesty Barred From Seeing Aung San Suu Kyi

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Burma's military regime blocked Amnesty International from meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's most famous political prisoner, during an investigation into "the grave deterioration" of human rights throughout the country, the London-based organization said.

"We were not able to see her," Amnesty International's researcher on Burma, Donna Guest, said on Monday (Dec. 22) in a taped interview after emerging from the largest nation in mainland Southeast Asia.

"The way that we characterize her status is that she is being held in de-facto house arrest," said Ms. Guest, an American working at Amnesty's London headquarters.

"What we mean by de-facto house arrest is that it's not entirely clear whether she is being held under 10-B of the 1975 State Protection Act which allows for up to five years detention without charge, trial or judicial appeal," Ms. Guest said.

When Amnesty International asked the regime to allow a meeting with Mrs. Suu Kyi, "we were told the time was not right," Ms. Guest said. "We had no contact with her, direct or indirect."

Burmese authorities forced Mrs. Suu Kyi to return to her home in the capital, Rangoon, in September after detaining her elsewhere in response to a deadly clash in May between her pro-democracy supporters and opponents in northern Burma's Depayin town, where she was touring.

Earlier, Mrs. Suu Kyi suffered several years of house arrest because of her political activity.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party was supposed to govern after its landslide election victory in 1990 but the military regime refused to step down and continues to control Burma, also known as Myanmar.

In addition to Ms. Suu Kyi, more than 1,300 political prisoners are currently behind bars, Ms. Guest said.

"We are concerned about torture. It is a continuing concern of Amnesty International, the issue of torture of political prisoners," Ms. Guest said. "We noted it," she added, refusing to elaborate.

"Since our first visit in February 2003, we have reported the grave deterioration of the human rights situation in Myanmar, most notably the violent attack on the National League for Democracy in Depayin on May 30 [when] at least four people were killed and dozens of people were injured in an attack reportedly instigated by [a] pro-government organization," Amnesty International said in an official statement issued on Monday (Dec. 22).

Two Amnesty International representatives were allowed to visit Burma from Dec. 2 to 19, including Ms. Guest and Catherine Baber, Amnesty's deputy program director for the Asia-Pacific region.

"We were able to meet with Shan people, Chin people, some Mon people and some Karen people who represented various ethnic nationalities' political parties," Ms. Guest told reporters.

"For security reasons, we are not able to characterize or name specific individuals, but we did meet with a broad range of people. These are people who were very elderly, that were young, male, female, NLD members, members of other political parties, journalists, doctors, lawyers," she said.

"We were only able to interview 35 prisoners" at three prisons, Ms. Guest said.

During the 17-day trip, Amnesty International also met Burmese officials including "the home minister, the deputy foreign minister, police and prison officials, people concerned with the administration of justice such as the attorney-general and the chief justice," she said.

Ms. Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is currently the focus of a video campaign by the music network MTV to free her -- though Singapore-based MTV Asia said they would not show the ads in Asia.

The MTV ad, produced in Europe, portrays a typical teenage girl in a bedroom decorated with posters and other items, but then the lights darken, the walls are stripped and the rug becomes a stone floor -- turning the room into a grim cell.

"How would you feel if your home was a prison?" the video says, while displaying a photo of Mrs. Suu Kyi along with the caption: "Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest".

MTV's video flashes a website address which offers a written petition to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan asking for Mrs. Suu Kyi's freedom.

In real life, Mrs. Suu Kyi is detained in her large, furnished, two-story, lakeside villa in Rangoon, surrounded by a tranquil garden and assisted by staff.

In 2002, Ms. Suu Kyi asked foreign tourists not to visit Burma because most of the money they spend winds up in the pockets of the military regime which operates much of the tourism industry.

The British government in 2002 also urged tourists not to holiday in Burma.

The Burmese regime, however, said tourism increased during 2003 over the previous year despite various boycotts against travelling to the quaint, impoverished, mostly Buddhist nation.

The Rolling Stones lead singer, Mick Jagger, recently chartered a plane to fly from Thailand to Burma on a trip with his girlfriend to the town of Pagan where ancient pagodas rise from a vast plain along the majestic Irrawaddy River, according to one of his hosts in Thailand.

While Mrs. Suu Kyi remains trapped in her home, some of the politicians who were elected in 1990 from her NLD party, along with smaller allied parties, operate through an organization called the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB).

"Our NCGUB headquarters is based in Washington DC, and we have another two offices, one is in New Delhi [India] and another is on the Thai-Burma border," NCGUB Information Director, Zin Linn, said in a taped interview on Monday (Dec. 22).

"Also we have an office in the United Nations," Mr. Zin Linn said.

"We describe ourselves as a government-in-exile," he added. "She [Mrs. Suu Kyi] is our official leader."

Burma's ruling junta indicated it wants to create a "road map" toward democracy but is vague about details, refusing to give a date for releasing Mrs. Suu Kyi or stepping down from power.

The regime suggested a new constitution must first be written, and then fresh elections may need to be held because politicians who won seats in the 1990 poll were scheduled to rule for only five years -- even though they never were allowed to take their seats in parliament.

The government-in-exile, however, said because parliament was forbidden from meeting after the 1990 election, their five-year term did not start and is still in line to begin ruling when that ban is lifted.

"According to the 1990 general election, it [their new government] will start on the assembly's starting date, and it never convened," Mr. Zin Linn said.


- Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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