On June 19, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement of Burma, will receive the dubious honor of spending her sixtieth birthday under house arrest as the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Burma, the land of golden temple spires and soapstone Buddhas with painted red smiles, is also a land where the ruling dictatorship has overseen the mass imprisonment of political dissidents, the use of rape as a weapon against ethnic women, and the forcible recruitment of more child soldiers than in any country in the world.
Aung San Suu Kyi took up her country’s struggle in 1988, leading a popular movement to end Burma’s military dictatorship. She has been held in prison or under house arrest ever since 1990, except for a few brief periods when limited travel around Burma was allowed. In May of 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade was attacked by paramilitary forces, and as many as one hundred of her supporters were clubbed to death. Since then she has once again been held in confinement. Her amazing perspective on her many years of incarceration is summed up in her book Freedom From Fear: “The only real prison is fear,” she writes, “and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”
To draw attention to Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle, activists are taking a page out of the 1988 campaign to free Nelson Mandela, called “Mandela at 70.” The U.S. Campaign for Burma and other groups around the world are now planning major events under the banner “Aung San Suu Kyi at 60.” The efforts will include massive demonstrations at the dictator’s embassies around the world and the delivery of six thousand birthday cards that will be dumped on the steps of the embassy in Washington, D.C., in a heap. Activists are also calling on anyone who cares about human rights to “arrest” themselves for twenty-four hours in solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday, June 19. More details are available at www.uscampaignforburma.org.
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