Myanmar Opposition Leader Sentenced
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
President Obama is calling for the immediate unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. That's after the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was convicted by a court today. She was found guilty of violating the terms of her house arrest when an American swam to her home. The American, who undertook that nocturnal swim, received a stiffer sentence - seven years in prison, including four years of hard labor.
NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent Michael Sullivan reports.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: The outcome of this trial was never in doubt, only the severity of the punishment. And today that punishment became clear. Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years in prison for allowing John Yettaw to stay at her house for two nights, after he swam there uninvited in May, apparently alluding security officials guarding the house to keep Suu Kyi from leaving. After the verdict was read the court recessed for five minutes, then returned to hear a special order from Myanmar Senior General Than Shwe that reduced the sentence to 18 months to be spent under house arrest, not in prison. The real purpose of the trial, the regime's critics say, was to keep Suu Kyi from participating, even indirectly, in next year's general elections. In that, the regime has succeeded. And in reducing her sentence by half, Myanmar Senior General Than Shwe may have also succeeded in deflecting some of the criticism he's taken for putting her on trial in the first place.
Mr. DAVID MATHESON (Burma Expert, Human Rights Watch): Three years and reduction by half back to house arrest, it gets the regime exactly what they want and confuses the international community.
SULLIVAN: That's David Matheson from Human Rights Watch. He says it's an international community already divided over what approach to take toward Myanmar, one that might be even more divided after today's verdict.
Mr. MATHESON: As Hillary Clinton said, in February this year, that sanctions and engagement haven't really worked. But I think the fear is that some countries are going to look at this result and say this is positive. This is at least something that we can work with. And that's very, very dangerous because no one should take that approach whatsoever. This is a reprehensible result by any measure.
SULLIVAN: Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile who edits the Irrawaddy Magazine agrees, but says Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe hasn't survived this long by being stupid.
Mr. AUNG ZAW (Editor, Irrawaddy Magazine): Don't forget that he is a former psychological warfare officer. He taught history in Burma and he knows how to manipulate this verdict intended to deflect the international pressure. So, it's very clever, a clever message. That will, I think, reduce some pressure at some quarter.
SULLIVAN: Aung San Suu Kyi meanwhile is likely to be returned to the lakeside home where she has spent the past six years under house arrest, and a total of 14 of the past 20 years in detention of one form or another after her National League for Democracy won an overwhelming victory in the country's last democratic election back in 1990: a result ignored by the military - a military busy preparing for next year's election, part of what it calls it's road map to democracy, by denying the country's democracy icon any role in it.
Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.