A message from Aung San Suu Kyi to political prisoners

On June 27, Aung San Suu Kyi, the legendary Burmese activist, who fought for free elections in her country and who spent 15 out of the last 20 years under house arrest, has made her first official visit to Europe since her release.

She visited Oslo, where she was finally able to receive the Nobel Prize, which had been awaiting her for 21 years (since 1991), as well as visiting Switzerland, Ireland, United Kingdom, and France. 

In France, Aung San Suu Kyi was received by the President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the etiquette befitting a head of state. She was also presented the Honorary Citizen of the City status, by the Mayor of Paris, which she had been awarded in 1994.

But after this official part, in the more informal setting, Aung San Suu Kyi met with representatives of civil society and answered their questions.

On behalf of Civil Society, Aung San Suu Kyi was welcomed by Souhayr Belhassen, the President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). In her emotional opening remarks, Madam Вelhassen spoke about the years of struggle for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and about how momentous this meeting was, for all those who believed in it, despite the 15 years of isolation and repression.

Souhayr Belhassen concluded by calling on everyone to remember those, who are still being held all over the world because of their human rights or opposition activities. She indicated the T-shirt she was wearing with the image of the Vice-president of FIDH and head of the Human Rights Center Viasna, Ales Bialiatski, currently imprisoned in Belarus, noting that his persecution was emblematic of the hundreds of political prisoners around the world, some of whose names, most people have never even heard of. 

Other guests included Mutabar Tadjibayeva, the famous Uzbek human rights defender, who had been subjected to torture while imprisoned in her home country, and who currently resides in France, as well as the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Pavel, and Yevgenia, the daughter of Yulia Tymoshenko, both of whom arrived specifically for this occasion.

In her response, Aung San Suu Kyi voiced her gratitude to all who struggle for the release of political prisoners in their countries and stated:

“I would like to say to prisoners of conscience all over the world: Hold fast to your struggle! Respect for humanity starts with respect for one’s self. My message to you is very simple: if you respect yourself, do not forsake your struggle.

And don’t think that you are alone. In Burma, we often thought that we had been abandoned. And I didn’t realize how wrong we were until this trip to Europe.

I am so happy that it is a Tunisians human rights defender who has organized this gathering. I was amazed, when I found out that people in Africa, in Arabic countries, in the Near East, were all voicing their solidarity with us, praying for us, wishing us success. This was eye opening, I had thought that we were so far away from everyone… 

Someone here used the word “miracle.” I was reminded of the words of an officer who fought on the side of the Allies during World War II: “We do the impossible every day. But a miracle takes a little more time.”

It should be remembered, that the father of the activist, Aung San, was the first to join the anti-Axis coalition in the country, which had been given independence in exchange for declaring war against Great Britain and the USA, and joining the side of Japan and Hitler. He was the founder of the modern military of Myanmar, participated in the 1947 negotiations with the British Empire over the independence of Burma, and was killed with several other members of government in 1947.

In 1990, the military junta conducted general parliamentary elections. The National League for Democracy Party received 59% of the votes, which translated into 80% of the seats in parliament. Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the party, was barred from participating as a candidate in the election, and thus was not elected. Despite this, Suu Kyi was favored to become the next Prime Minister of the new government. However, the results of the election were annulled, when the military junta refused to cede power. Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest at her home in Rangoon. At the same time, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, and a year later, the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Prize was accepted on her behalf by her sons, who were only able to see their mother years later.

In the years between 1988 and 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest for various charges. While she was under house arrest, she was forbidden from meeting with her party’s supporters and international visitors. During one of her interviews, she stated that while under house arrest, she spent all of her time reading philosophy and politics, and playing the piano.

On April 1st, 2012, her victory was upheld by the Unified Election Commission, which announced that the opposition party had won 43 of the 45 contested regions. It had been expected, that the new delegates would begin serving on April 23, but the members of the Opposition refused to be sworn in, because the oath contained a mandate to uphold the constitution. In their opinion, the oath has to be changed, obliging them only to respect the constitution.

On May 2nd, 2012, the delegates from National League for Democracy Party were sworn in, despite the fact that the wording of the oath had not been changed. Opposition politicians decided that they can do more by joining the other legislators than by continuing their boycott. This decision, indicating political flexibility, won high praise from the General Secretary of the UN, Ban Ki Moon.

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