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Suu Kyi gets eighteen months' house arrest amid international outrage

Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to eighteen months of house arrest on 11 August
Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to eighteen months of house arrest on 11 August

Reuters via Human Rights Watch

Amid a flurry of protests around the world, Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to one and a half years of house arrest, report Mizzima News, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), ARTICLE 19 and other IFEX members.

On 11 August a Burmese court convicted Suu Kyi of violating her house arrest by sheltering U.S. citizen John William Yettaw after he swam to her lakeside home in May to secretly visit her. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace prize winner, has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention.

Her sentence of three years in prison with hard labour was quickly commuted to 18 months house arrest after an order from the head of the military-ruled country, Senior General Than Shwe, says Mizzima.

Her conviction and continued detention were condemned by world leaders and sparked demonstrations around the world, say news reports. The European Union began preparing new sanctions against the junta and a group of 14 Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on the UN Security Council to take strong action against the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Yettaw. He was convicted along with Suu Kyi and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment with hard labour for helping her violate the terms of her house arrest and for other charges, including violation of immigration laws.

Two women who live with Suu Kyi, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, were also sentenced to one and a half years under house arrest, reports Mizzima.

Suu Kyi, who could have received five years in jail with hard labour, was shown leniency because the junta wished to avoid international criticism and ease internal pressure, Win Tin, a senior member of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told reporters.

"This is a clever decision by the government," said Win Tin, an ex-prisoner released last year after serving almost 19 years.

The court case has been typified by delays and procedural anomalies - what Amnesty International said were orchestrated by the junta to make the court appear fair and impartial.

The Burmese military junta allowed diplomats and journalists to be present at the court proceedings, which were held in Rangoon's Insein prison, "in an ostensible attempt at transparency," said Mizzima.

The sentence is widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep Suu Kyi detained past elections it has scheduled for next May. NLD leaders have said in the past that representatives will not take part in the 2010 elections if Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are not freed.

"The regime has now finally and conclusively eliminated any possibility of free and fair elections in 2010. Those governments that still prop up General Than Shwe and his ilk, and cling to the excuse that Burma will open up next year following the elections are no longer even remotely credible," said ARTICLE 19.

IFEX members are demanding that the international community and specifically the governments of India, China and the ASEAN states put more political pressure on the generals. Because Burma is a strategic and economic partner among the Asian powers, they have been reluctant to insist on political change.

Members of the Burma Action Group, comprising 21 members and partners of IFEX, including those mentioned in this article, are preparing a joint statement condemning the verdict.

The verdict in Suu Kyi's case comes 20 years since she was first imprisoned, and around the time of the 21st anniversary of 8888 - the date that marks the violent suppression of demonstrators in Burma.

In an event last week with Index on Censorship and other rights groups, ARTICLE 19 launched "Simmering Under Ashes", a collection of essays, poems, stories and articles written by Burmese journalists, writers and citizens commemorating the events and cataloguing the different kinds of repression in Burma over two decades.

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