Yangon: Myanmar’s military junta plans to release political activist Aung San Suu Kyi, but the timing is undecided, an official with the country’s ministry of information said on Friday.
“The plan to release Suu Kyi is on, but the actual plan on the day of her release is not known yet,” said the source, who is not allowed to speak officially.
The Nobel Peace laureate’s house arrest is due to end on Saturday, but her supporters are left to guess whether the ruling military regime will actually release her.
The leaders of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party were meeting on Friday to discuss her possible release, said one of her lawyers, Nyan Win.
They’ve arranged some security precautions in case she’s released, but “can’t do much since we still don’t know what time she is going to be released,” Nyan Win added.
Security has been stepped up in Myanmar, but it was unclear whether that was because of Suu Kyi’s possible release or because of the country’s first elections in two decades, which happened Sunday.
“If they release her, it’s not because her term is up. They can always come up with excuses to detain her,” said Maung Zarni, a research fellow on Myanmar at the London School of Economics.
Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Myanmar specialist, said it makes “perfect sense” for the regime to free her since she’s “no longer an electoral threat to them.” She was unable to participate in the elections because of her current court conviction.
There have been calls around the world for her release, including one from President Barack Obama during his current trip to Asia. However, Zawacki believes she will be freed only be because the nation’s ruler, Senior General Than Shwe, believes it’s in his interest, not because of international pressure.
“I don’t anticipate they will release her without conditions,” Zawacki said. And if she violated any conditions of release, he said, she could be arrested again.
The ruling military junta has not announced official election results, but critics say a military victory is all but certain. They called the elections a fraud aimed at creating the facade of democracy in Myanmar, which also is known as Burma.
The country’s military junta has refused to allow international media into Myanmar to cover the elections and their aftermath. The junta also refused to allow international monitors to oversee the election.
“There is much speculation about whether or not Aung San Suu Kyi will be released,” the Burma Campaign UK said. “The recent hard line taken by Burma’s generals towards human rights, and blatant rigging of the 7th November election, could indicate that it is unlikely they will release her. Conversely, they could be calculating that by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi they will receive so much positive publicity it will counter the negative attention on the election.”
If Suu Kyi is released Saturday, one of the first things she’ll do is challenge the legitimacy of the elections, Zarni said. She’ll also meet with leaders of her political party and challenge the legitimacy of Myanmar’s recently overhauled constitution, which the military regime redrafted to tighten its grip on the country, Zarni added.
Her release would have to be approved by Shwe, Zarni said. As it is, Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest at his discretion, Zarni said.
The political activist has made demands as well.
“She has made it categorically clear that she will not accept conditions; that she will not walk out of the house with conditions,” Zarni said.
Such limitations could include restrictions on where she could go, with whom she could meet and how she could communicate. For instance, she wants a Twitter account so she can communicate with Myanmar’s younger population, Zarni said.
Suu Kyi’s lawyers are skeptical about her possible release.
“The regime has repeatedly claimed it intended to release her on various dates over the years and has then failed to follow through on its commitment to release her,” said her attorney Jared Genser, who is based in Washington. “So, ultimately, I don’t tend to follow what they say, but rather what they do,”
Suu Kyi has spent most of the past 20 years under house arrest. The political activist won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in 1990, but the military junta rejected the results.
The regime recently passed a law that made her ineligible to stand in Sunday’s elections because of her court conviction. Her supporters have said that her current conviction was a way to remove her from the election campaign.
A Myanmar court convicted Suu Kyi in August 2009 for breaching the terms of her house arrest after American John Yettaw swam uninvited to her lakeside house in Yangon and briefly stayed there.
On Thursday, Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected Suu Kyi’s appeal for release, said her lawyer, Nyan Win. It was Suu Kyi’s last chance to appeal, but the loss was expected. She lost a similar appeal in a lower court in February.
Before Sunday’s elections, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Myanmar’s junta to release Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners so that the voting was legitimate.
Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962, is holding an estimated 2,000 political prisoners.