BANGKOK (RPRN) 8/11/2009–Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to 18 more months of house arrest. The sentence drew condemnation from foreign governments and human rights groups.
Security forces surrounded Insein Prison in Rangoon Tuesday as the verdict was handed down.
The court sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to three years in prison. But in a move that demonstrated the supremacy of the ruling military, the home minister shortly announced that the country’s top general, Than Shwe, had ordered the sentence commuted to one-and-a-half years under house arrest.
The 64-year-old has been imprisoned at Insein since she was charged of violating her house arrest in May when American John Yettaw swam to her lakeside house and stayed there for two days. Shortly after the verdict, she was returned to her home.
Critics say the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi were fabricated and her punishment aimed at preventing her from participating in elections scheduled next year.
Debbie Stothard is coordinator of the rights group Alternative Asean Network on Burma in Bangkok.
“Because of international pressure, they [the military government] made it a lighter sentence but it doesn’t change the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi has been unjustly detained for more than 14 years already,” said Stothard.
In a statement Tuesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was “saddened and angry” at the verdict and called the sentence “purely political.” The European Union, Australia and France have also condemned the sentence.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 but the military never allowed it to govern. State-owned newspapers Tuesday warned supporters of the Nobel Peace laureate against riots and said only the law could decide who is qualified to run in the election.
Bo Kyi, secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma in Mae Sot, Thailand, says the sentence could spark anti-government actions.
“I expect more domestic pressure,” Bo Kyi said. “People in Burma are really angry and they want to show their desire for release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Therefore, the military regime is also afraid of mass mobilizations.”
In September 2007, government forces violently ended anti-government marches led by monks across Burma.
Western governments including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Burma’s government. The pressure has yet to result in reforms in the isolated state or brought Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom. Her conviction on Tuesday brought new calls for tougher sanctions.
John Yettaw was sentenced to seven years in prison, including four years in hard labor for immigration offenses and for “swimming in a non-swimming area.” Two women who live in the house with Aung San Suu Kyi also were convicted and sentenced to three years, which was reduced to 18 months.