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Aung San Suu Kyi calls upcoming elections illegitimate

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 11 February 2010 - Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated that Burma's severe restrictions on free expression and access to information will compromise any attempt to hold free and fair elections later this year.

Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Rangoon, was speaking this week through her lawyer, Nyan Win. She said that she was unwilling to engage in the election process because the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of association are consistently denied to Burmese citizens.

According to Nyan Win: "'If there is no freedom of information and freedom of expression, there will be no free and fair election', Aung San Suu Kyi said. 'The basic requirements like freedom of press, speech and campaigning, and also free and fair election will be needed if she has to decide whether or not to contest in election.'"

Suu Kyi also conveyed advice to her party, the National League for Democracy, via Win Tin, a senior journalist and NLD politician released in 2008 from 19 years in prison. She has apparently warned the Burmese people not to believe the regime's claims that Burma will move towards a more open political environment after the elections. Suu Kyi will not be eligible to contest the elections, not because of her house arrest, but because of her marriage to a foreign citizen, which is proscribed under the Constitution.

Despite various promises from the authorities, it is still not clear when the elections will take place and how they will be implemented. There is no election law in place yet. Sources predict the possibility of a vote on 10 October 2010 - 10/10/10 is a date with resonance in numerology for the notoriously superstitious military regime.

The regime has neither allowed political parties to campaign nor open offices, although there are reports that the military and military-backed organisations such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) have already begun electioneering. Burmese news website Mizzima, which reports from outside the country, reveals that state-owned media groups are already concentrating resources showing military officials giving out money and meeting with local leaders.

Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, comments: "On the day the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release, we must remember that there are many defenders of free expression trapped in prisons, none more so than in Burma. Hearing Suu Kyi's voice from beyond house arrest is a poignant reminder of the plight of many in Burma and elsewhere around the world who are imprisoned because of their stand for human dignity, and of their incredible courage in the face of adversity and torture."

"A free exchange of ideas and political opinions is absolutely crucial in the lead-up to any democratic election. Clearly, despite Suu Kyi's bravery in confronting her jailers, Burma will not and does not fulfil any of the normal criteria for a democracy during this election process. We therefore stand by Aung San Suu Kyi in her courageous attempts to call the regime to account for its actions."

ARTICLE 19 calls on the international community to pay attention to Suu Kyi's words and to make it clear to the Burmese ruling Junta that no election will be legitimate without unfettered freedom of expression and information and the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi is an honorary board member for ARTICLE 19.

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