The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) condemns the guilty verdict and 18-month extended house arrest meted out to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 11 August 2009. SEAPA joins the international community in rejecting this judgment, and in demanding the immediate release of Suu Kyi, a democracy icon in Burma and for the rest of the world.
We also urge that Suu Kyi be granted immediate and continuing access to the media, her lawyers, and members of the diplomatic community in Yangon, so as to ensure her safety and well-being while she remains under continuing government custody.
Even prior to this new verdict, Burma's democracy leader has already spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention. She was near to securing a mandatory review that could have facilitated her release, but two months ago suddenly found her prison term under threat of yet another extension.
On 11 August she was found guilty of violating an internal security law prohibiting her to receive guests. The charges resulted from a bizarre incident in which American John Yettaw swam uninvited to her lakeside home in May. The junta claimed that this breached the terms of her house arrest, despite a lack of evidence to suggest that Suu Kyi was complicit in Yettaw's actions.
SEAPA says the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi merely lends credence to fears that the charges were trumped up and the trial was rigged so as to isolate the opposition leader, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from scheduled national elections in 2010.
On May 22 this year, the United Nations' Security Council issued a statement—its third—calling on the regime to enter into genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic groups. Instead, the generals have continued to detain her, along with more than 2,100 political prisoners.
SEAPA believes that no genuine democratic reform can be initiated in Burma if the military junta continues to suppress contrary views and dissenting voices. Aung San Suu Kyi is a symbol of all the victims of the regime's harsh policies over the years. This includes not only the political opposition but also journalists, artists, press freedom advocates and citizen journalists whose only crime, in the eyes of the junta, is getting independent news and commentary out to the public.