November 16, 2010 12:00 AM
YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi began the nuts and bolts work of reviving her political movement Monday, consulting lawyers about having her now-disbanded party declared legal again.
Suu Kyi was released over the weekend from 7½ years in detention. On Sunday, she told thousands of wildly cheering supporters at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy that she would continue to fight for human rights and the rule of law in the military-controlled nation.
The 65-year-old Nobel Peace laureate must balance the expectations of the country's pro-democracy movement with the realities of freedom that could be withdrawn any time by the regime. Although her party is officially dissolved, it has continued operating with the same structure. But without official recognition, it is in legal limbo, leaving it — and her — vulnerable to government crackdowns.
The junta recently staged Myanmar's first elections in 20 years, and in a step that will blunt some of the long-standing international criticism of its conduct, released Suu Kyi a week later. Having made those ostensible moves toward democratization after five decades of military rule, it is unlikely to make more concessions — like restoring the NLD's legal status — without getting something back from Suu Kyi and her party, such as dropping opposition to Western sanctions.
Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years, has indicated she would continue with her political activity but not whether she would challenge the military with mass rallies and other activities. She has been noncommittal on sanctions, saying that she would support lifting them if the people of Myanmar provided strong justification for doing so.
In an interview Monday with the BBC, Suu Kyi said she sought "a nonviolent revolution" and offered some reassuring words for the military.
"I don't want to see the military falling. I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism," she said.
The British-educated Suu Kyi also said she did not fear being detained again.
"I'm not scared," she said. "I know that there is always a possibility, of course. They've done it back in the past, they might do it again."
Nyan Win, who is her lawyer as well as a party spokesman, said Suu Kyi met with her lawyers Monday morning and also party officials from areas outside Yangon who have been keeping her political network alive during years of repression.
He said Myanmar's High Court this Thursday will hold a hearing to decide whether to accept a case from Suu Kyi arguing that her party's dissolution "is not in accordance with the law." The party was disbanded earlier this year under a new law because it failed to reregister for Nov. 7 elections, complaining conditions set by the junta were unfair and undemocratic.
Suu Kyi's side says the new Election Commission has no right to deregister parties that were registered under a different Election Commission in 1990. The party also contends that the court is legally bound to hear their case.
Full results from this month's elections have yet to be released, but figures so far give a military-backed party a solid majority in both houses of parliament.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons he talked to Suu Kyi by telephone on Monday morning.
"Her tenacity and courage in the face of injustice has been truly inspiring. I spoke to her this morning to pass on the congratulations of everyone in the country on her release and her remarkable stand on democracy and human rights," Cameron told lawmakers. "We must now work to ensure that her release is followed by freedom for more than 2,000 other political prisoners."
Many observers have questioned whether her release on Saturday was timed by the junta to distract the world's attention from the polls, decried by Western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate control by the military which has ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, since 1962.
The NLD won 1990 elections by a large margin but the regime barred it from taking power.
Nyan Win said Suu Kyi's lawyers are also pursuing a separate legal case against the junta, involving an appeal to the Human Rights Council, a U.N. body, over her latest 18-month sentence of house arrest which has just ended.
Suu Kyi was convicted of violating conditions of a previous term of house arrest by briefly sheltering an uninvited American who swam to her home. Her legal team argues that the ruling — also applied to two women companions living with Suu Kyi — was illegal and unlawful as it was based on the 1974 Constitution, which was abrogated in 1988.
Since Myanmar's Special Appellate Bench on Nov. 11 turned down an appeal to overturn lower court decisions in that case, Suu Kyi's lawyers are taking her case to the U.N. council.
Although the junta often seems to defy critical international opinion, it has shown sensitivity to pressure from U.N. organizations. Past condemnation by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization over the junta's use of forced labor led to the opening of a special U.N. office in Yangon to hear workers' complaints.