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Suu Kyi’s legal plight sparks global outrage

The Norwegian committee that propelled Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi into the world spotlight by awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 called for her release from prison.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Norwegian committee that propelled Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi into the world spotlight by awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 called Friday for her immediate release from prison.

"Her recent detention in prison is totally unacceptable. She has done nothing wrong," said a statement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which rarely comments on past laureates.

"We sent this because it is a matter of the life and health of a laureate," its nonvoting secretary, Geir Lundestad, told The Associated Press.

The protest added to a storm of international appeals to Myanmar's military government to free the 63-year-old Suu Kyi and accelerate genuine moves toward the restoration of democracy in the country, which has been under military rule virtually continuously since 1962.

Suu Kyi was taken Thursday from the lakeside home where she is kept under house arrest to Insein Prison to be charged with violating the terms of her detention by allegedly sheltering an American man said to have swum across a lake last week to sneak into her residence. She and two women helpers who live with her are set to be tried Monday.

Suu Kyi has already spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention without trial for her nonviolent promotion of democracy. She was scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of incarceration but now faces up to five years in prison if convicted, according to one of her lawyers, Hla Myo Myint.

She is now is being held in a "guest house" within the prison compound during her trial proceedings, said another of her lawyers, Kyi Win.

Jailing dissidents
The charges are widely seen as a pretext for the ruling junta to keep Suu Kyi detained past an election it has scheduled for next year as the culmination of its snail's pace "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military control.

Many other prominent dissidents received long jail terms last year, which could hurt any opposition effort to contest the polls.

The Nobel committee statement urged the immediate release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

"Free elections should be held as soon as possible," it said.

The international uproar against Suu Kyi's detention is hardly unprecedented, as Western nations and human rights groups have long offered support for Suu Kyi in her David vs. Goliath battle with the generals, whose regime holds more than 2,000 political prisoners, according to estimates by the U.N. and independent human rights groups.

But even as the international pressure has grown — peaking in September 2007, when the army violently quashed mass pro-democracy demonstrations — the junta has shown little inclination to compromise. Despite political and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and many Western nations, it can rely on support from neighboring China.

Myanmar's other big neighbor, India, also tries to keep in the generals' good graces to counter the influence of China, its regional rival.

Many Southeast Asian neighbors are also inclined to hold a live-and-let-live policy toward Myanmar, with which some have significant trade and investment links.

Neither India nor China have officially commented on the latest moves against Suu Kyi.

Singapore, however, called it a setback for Myanmar's political reconciliation process.

"We reiterate the call for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from detention," said a Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry statement, also mentioning concern that her health could deteriorate in prison. Suu Kyi has recently been ill, suffering from dehydration and low blood pressure.

Clinton: 'Baseless crime'
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was deeply troubled by Myanmar's decision to charge Suu Kyi for a "baseless crime," and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "deeply disturbed" by the development. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for her immediate release.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch accused the junta of taking "advantage of an intruder's bizarre stunt to throw Aung San Suu Kyi into one of Burma's most notorious and squalid jails on trumped-up charges."

John William Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, swam across a lake to see Suu Kyi for reasons that remain unclear. He is also under arrest and to be tried next week for violating the security cordon around Suu Kyi's house.

His wife, Betty Yettaw, described her husband as eccentric but peace-loving and "not political at all."

According to his ex-wife Yvonne Yettaw, he said he went to Asia to work on a psychology paper about forgiveness. She said he belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons, but that it was unlikely he went to proselytize for the church or convert Suu Kyi.

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