Aung San Suu Kyi remains in the international limelight as her trial in Rangoon continues into a second week.
Although hidden from the public eye for several years, Burma’s pro-democracy icon has garnered resounding international support, showing a calm defiance in the face of the injustices handed out by the country’s military rulers.
The truth is that Suu Kyi remains deeply respected and loved. The huge respect she commands was seen at Tuesday’s court session, when foreign diplomats, reporters and even some security officials rose from their seats as she entered—an awkward moment for the officials.
There is no doubt that Suu Kyi remains a figurehead of Burma’s beleaguered democracy movement, and her trial before a kangaroo court in Rangoon’s Insein Prison is provoking endless international outrage and condemnation.
US president Barack Obama, whose administration has just extended sanctions against the Burmese regime, hailed Suu Kyi’s patriotism, sacrifice and her vision of a democratic and prosperous Burma.
“It is time for the Burmese government to drop all charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and unconditionally release her and her fellow political prisoners,” Obama declared.
Despite these appeals from the highest international levels, the fear remains that Suu Kyi’s captor, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is determined to keep her in prison. The junta leader lives in a state of fear and paranoia.
Than Shwe and Suu Kyi are not equal contenders in a fight for a political ideology. Suu Kyi fights for democracy and freedom in Burma, while Than Shwe runs an infamous gulag and keeps Burma locked into the status of a pariah state. His hatred of Suu Kyi is immeasurable.
Thus, Burma’s dissident community, Burmese political observers and Suu Kyi’s lawyers have expressed fears that the international pressure won’t cause Than Shwe to budge an inch.
Mark Canning, the British ambassador to Burma, told the British daily The Guardian the regime had been "taken aback" by the strength of international opposition to Suu Kyi's arrest. He did not expect Suu Kyi to be acquitted, however, although he felt that continued pressure could force the court to consider a lighter sentence.
“There's no doubt in my mind that this will end in a guilty verdict, but they may trim their custodial ambitions and give her another year under house arrest rather than five years in prison,” Canning said. “That way they can keep her out of the way during the elections next year. That is what this is all about.”
International pressure and media coverage of the trial and Suu Kyi’s plight are remarkable but won’t be enough to move the mountain of Than Shwe’s obduracy.
He and other leading generals have established similar kangaroo courts in the past to frame rivals and dissidents and they have always strongly resisted domestic and international pressure, countering it with lie after lie.
Brig-Gen Myint Thein disingenuously told reporters that the regime had intended to free Suu Kyi when her latest term of house arrest expires this month, but because of John William Yettaw’s intrusion “we unavoidably and regretfully had to take legal action against her.”
Who on the earth is going to believe that?
Like her father, independence hero Gen Aung San, Suu Kyi doesn’t lie and she doesn’t fabricate a story. Insisting on her innocence, she said she had only given Yettaw temporary shelter.
A senior Burmese journalist who attended an open session of her trial said she acted gracefully before the court. “We are proud of her and her demeanor,” he said. Which is more than most Burmese will say about Than Shwe and his regime.
The sad fact is that the verdict in Suu Kyi’s trial has already been written and she is going to spend time in Insein Prison. The question is: how long?
If Mark Canning is correct, the regime leader may consider a shorter prison sentence than the maximum five years. However long her sentence, Suu Kyi—like many other political prisoners—is no doubt prepared accept her fate with courage.
While Than Shwe probably doesn’t even bother to read statements by such world leaders as President Obama, he must surely be upset at the worldwide outpouring of support for Suu Kyi. He would like to see her condemned to oblivion, but just the opposite is occurring.
Therein lies Than Shwe’s defeat. Suu Kyi is in the dock of a kangaroo court, but the real prisoner is Than Shwe—a prisoner of his own irrational hatred and disappointed ambitions.