The much awaited drama of the court ruling in the case against Aung San Suu Kyi has finally ended. As many anticipated, justice was not served—Suu Kyi was found guilty despite her protestations of innocence.
The court decision had its twists and turns. The Nobel Peace Laureate was sentenced to three years imprisonment but that was later commuted to 18 months house arrest, a Home Affairs minister said.
Burma’s military ruler Snr Gen Than Shwe signed a special order suspending the sentence and ordering that Suu Kyi should spend a further 18 months under house arrest. Was it a conciliatory gesture from a paramount leader who is now preparing for a general election while facing sustained pressure from his allies and the West? Not really.
The general, a former psychological warfare officer, has played dirty tricks before now. Again he shied away from daring to make a courageous decision to free Suu Kyi, in spite of pleas from the international community and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The US, the regime’s most vocal critic, even extended an olive branch to Than Shwe through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said that if the regime released Suu Kyi there would be an opportunity for investment.
Than Shwe has usually resorted to extreme actions to shock the international community before gradually reducing them to some level where he is able to manipulate to recuperate kudos and reduce mounting pressure. This time he cowardly (or cleverly) executed the decision to extend Suu Kyi’s detention—manipulating public opinion once again. But, mindful of Than Shwe’s tricks in the past, he won’t be able to fool the people again and again.
Through all the court adjournments of the past weeks, political pundits have predicted that the verdict would be a compromise. The Irrawaddy reported that the generals were having second thoughts about how to handle the case. Initially, many believed that the regime would pass down a five-year prison sentence on Suu Kyi.
The question is: did international pressure play a part in the court decision? It did to some extent, although Than Shwe made his own mind up without outside influence.
It is believed that China and Russia, the regime’s allies, have been giving advice to the generals on the Suu Kyi trial.
We also need to look at the dynamic within the ruling military leadership, which is divided over how to deal with the lady. I don’t see anyone who is ready to ally with the lady—the generals are united in their intention to prevent her from entering into politics although they may adopt different strategies.
The manipulative general Than Shwe, who signed a letter freeing Suu Kyi from her first term of house arrest in 1995, again played a role in this court ruling, personally permitting Suu Kyi to return to her home. (See online news report.)
The special court in Insein Prison is known to be a “one-way street,” traveled by many prominent politicians and activists on their way to long terms in prison. Suu Kyi, who has been detained in Insein prison since the start of the trial in May, is perhaps the only one sent back home to serve her prison sentence.
But that doesn’t mean the regime has shown leniency toward Suu Kyi. The court decision will only invite more criticism and international condemnation, and will serve as a setback for the US and the West in their efforts to engage with the regime. This shows that expressing outrage alone is no longer enough.
Suu Kyi’s arrest and arraignment before a court within the walls of Insein Prison are a political decision, barring her from participation in the 2010 election. The continuation of her imprisonment is yet another attempt to suppress democracy in Burma and a blatant bid to isolate “the Lady” from her people.