By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 28, 2009
BANGKOK, May 27 -- For Burma's beleaguered opposition, Wednesday marked two grim anniversaries: 19 years since the vote in which democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to a victory the military refused to recognize and nearly six years since she was last free.
Suu Kyi is on trial in Rangoon's Insein Prison on charges that she breached the terms of her house arrest after a U.S. citizen swam to her lakeside home and stayed there overnight.
About 250 supporters of her National League for Democracy gathered outside the party's dilapidated headquarters in Rangoon on Wednesday, despite a significantly heavier-than-usual police presence on the streets. The group released birds and prayed for Suu Kyi and other jailed opposition figures.
"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners," Ohn Kyaing, an opposition member, told the crowd.
The gathering was a stark contrast to May 27, 1990, when jubilant crowds thought the opposition had unseated the military government. But it soon became clear that the army was not willing to hand over the reins of power.
Suu Kyi's challenge to the army of Burma, also called Myanmar, provoked a crackdown that resulted in her spending 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest. Her party has been reduced to a shell by arrests and intimidation as the military has consolidated power.
Suu Kyi and two housekeepers charged with her face as much as five years in prison if found guilty. Her uninvited visitor, John W. Yettaw, who has said he wanted to warn her that he had had a vision and thought her life was in danger, faces seven years in prison if convicted of immigration offenses and entering a restricted zone.
Supporters of Suu Kyi, 63, say that if she is forced to spend five years in the notoriously unsanitary conditions of Insein Prison, her life could indeed be in danger. They say Burmese authorities are using Yettaw's visit as an excuse to keep her locked up until after elections they have scheduled for next year.
In a statement to the court Tuesday, Suu Kyi said the incident "occurred because of a security breach" by authorities.
"However, until now no action has been taken on security," she said, apparently referring to the security officers the government has stationed at her home.
She has denied knowing in advance about Yettaw's plans but said she did not notify the authorities because she was trying to protect him.
"My political colleagues are serving long prison terms without any consideration or protection from the law," she said in the statement. "I allowed him to take temporary refuge in my political belief that I will not push anyone into custody."
"It does not matter who are the intruders or whatever their motive. I just did it out of my political belief," she said.
On Wednesday, the court rejected three of four witnesses her legal team wanted to present, calling their testimony an attempt at "vexation or delay or for defeating the ends of justice," the Associated Press reported.