Imagine if your home were trespassed by a man who had just swum across a lake and climbed up your drain — all to warn you of supposed danger. He says he is exhausted, ill and diabetic, so you allow this stranger to stay in your home to recuperate. In return for your kindness you receive… 18 months of house arrest?
It may seem like a movie scene, but such is the saga of activist Aung San Suu Kyi. As a Myanmar-born, Oxford-educated, recipient of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi rose to political prominence campaigning for democracy in 1988, the same year a military junta seized power in her native country. She helped found the National League for Democracy, and as its leader, was elected to be Prime Minister in the 1990 election. However this was not to be: the military regime refused to accept the election results and placed Suu Kyi on house arrest instead — a punishment she has endured for 14 of the past 20 years.
Since then, she has lived in relative obscurity until the May 13 arrest that has provoked international support. The trespasser, American John Yettaw, was sentenced to seven years of hard labor and Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 more months of house arrest.
Her story is one of injustice and heroism in equal parts. From the beginning, she was wrongly sentenced despite a fairly-won election and now is punished for violating house arrest terms although Yettaw was not an invited guest, but someone who illegally violated boundaries. Just last Friday, Aug. 13, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb took a landmark trip to Myanmar and freed Yettaw, but not Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi has remained faithful to her principles, even announcing that she bears no grudge against Yettaw. Her resolve is nothing new: in the past she was offered freedom if she left Myanmar, but always refused. Her most famous speech, “Freedom from Fear”, starts with these words:
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it…”
Suu Kyi has been a victim of the fear of others, but is fearless in the face of what she knows is right. It’s time for Myanmar to do the same and release this woman who has done no wrong.
Photo (top) of Aung San Suu Kyi; photo (bottom) of John Yettaw on Aug. 16 after his release won by Senator Jim Webb, courtesy of Associated Press (AFP/File)