Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate now facing trial on charges of government subversion, has been the face of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and the focus of a global campaign to free her.
The 63-year-old has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years and is rarely allowed visitors, except her doctor. Her detention was scheduled to end May 27, until an American allegedly swam across a lake and sneaked into her house, violating the conditions of Suu Kyi’s house arrest, according to the country’s ruling military junta.
The American, John Yettaw, has been charged on two criminal counts: entering the country illegally and staying at a resident’s home without government permission, according to a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s political party.
Both charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
After Yettaw’s visit, Suu Kyi was arrested and charged with government subversion. She faces up to five years in prison, if convicted. Video Watch a neighbour describe his impressions of Yettaw »
Suu Kyi was born on July 19, 1945, the daughter of Aung San, who fought for Burma’s independence from Britain and became the first prime minister of Burma, and of Khin Kyi, a diplomat and later ambassador to India.
Aung San was assassinated in 1947, and Suu Kyi grew up in Myanmar and India before moving to England during the 1960s to study at Oxford University. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.
Suu Kyi did not return to Myanmar until 1988, when her mother had a stroke. While there on September 24, 1988, Suu Kyi co-founded the National League for Democracy amid mass anti-government demonstrations. She was placed under house arrest the following July on charges of trying to divide the military, charges she denied.
Her party won over 80 percent of the legislative seats in 1990, but she was disqualified from serving because of her house arrest, and the military junta ignored the results.
It was during her house arrest that she won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1991, and the Marisa Bellisario Prize, in recognition of women who promote peace and solidarity, in 1992.
During that time, she gained admiration for sometimes speaking over the wall of her garden to her supporters.
In an interview she gave to CNN in 1996, a year after she was released from house arrest, she said, “I always felt free even when I was under house arrest. There’s no question of me not feeling free now. And the more restrictive the authorities are, the more clear it is that they know how much support we have.”
She was again placed under house arrest on September 22, 2000. The following December, then-US President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in absentia.
After a brief release in May 2002, she was placed under house arrest again — her most recent — the next year, and authorities have extended it regularly. The country’s law allows for a detention of five years without charges being filed, and that period ended at the end of May 2008, according to her lawyer Jared Genser. The government nevertheless extended the house arrest by a year.
In October 2007, clashes sparked by a huge fuel price increase imposed by the military junta erupted between pro-democracy demonstrators and government security forces, killing as many as 110 people, including 40 Buddhist monks.
The junta said then that it had detained more than 2,900 people.
The government has scheduled elections for next year that they say will lead the nation toward democracy. Human-rights organisations have said the vote will merely extend military rule in the nation.