August 11th, 2009
03:23 PM ET
13 years ago

Obama condemns new restrictions on Nobel winner Suu Kyi

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been held in confinement for 13 of the past 19 years."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama Tuesday blasted the sentencing of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 more months of house arrest as a violation of "universal principles of human rights."

"I join the international community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate unconditional release," Obama said.

He called the verdict "unjust" and said "thousands of other political prisoners in Burma [an alternate name for Myanmar]... have been denied their liberty because of their pursuit of a government that respects the will, rights, and aspirations of all Burmese citizens. They, too, should be freed."

Obama was joining a chorus of condemnation from figures ranging from the Dalai Lama to the U.N. secretary-general.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "saddened and angry at the verdict... following the sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi."

"The U.N. Security Council - whose will has been flouted - must also now respond resolutely and impose a world-wide ban on the sale of arms to the regime," he said, calling the verdict a "purely political sentence designed to prevent her from taking part in the regime's planned elections next year."

A military court found the Nobel Prize winner guilty earlier on Tuesday of violating the terms of her house arrest.

The court initially sentenced Suu Kyi to three years in prison, but the head of the country's ruling junta commuted it to a year and a half of house arrest.

"We continue to call for her release from continuing house arrest," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while on a diplomatic trip to Africa. "We also call for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including the American John Yettaw," she said, referring to the man who swam, uninvited, across a lake to Suu Kyi's residence earlier this year, prompting the charge she had violated her house arrest.

The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were among a group of Nobel laureates who also condemned the verdict.

They demanded that the U.N. Security Council investigate "war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed by the military junta that rules the country.

"This illegal verdict is just one more instance of the junta's contempt for justice, security and democracy for the Burmese people," said Nobel Laureate Jody Williams.

The United Nations issued a statement saying U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "strongly deplores this decision" and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi and "all other political prisoners."

In many ways, the court's decision is a continuation of Suu Kyi's current punishment.

The 64-year-old has spent 14 of the past 20 years in one form of confinement or another - most recently under house arrest.

Yettaw, who Suu Kyi said she did not know, was sentenced to seven years of hard labor. He was convicted of violating immigration laws, municipal laws and the house arrest terms.

Suu Kyi's supporters said the trial was meant to keep her confined so she cannot participate in next year's general elections.

An exact date for the elections has not been set. It is, therefore, unclear whether the ruling to extend Suu Kyi's house arrest will prevent her from campaigning.

The Myanmar government claims it was considering releasing Suu Kyi at the end of her latest home confinement term - and that it had no choice but to try her after she met with Yettaw.

The 1991 Nobel laureate has been the face of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement for decades.

She was put under house arrest in 1989. The following year, her National League for Democracy party won more than 80 percent of the legislative seats in the first free elections in the country in nearly 30 years.

But the military junta disqualified Suu Kyi from serving because of her house arrest, refused to step down and annulled the results.

–CNN's Dan Rivers and Kocha Olarn in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    Naturally Fox News will somehow spin this against Obama, much like they did with the freeing of two American journalists from North Korea.

    August 11, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  2. John in Tampa

    A mere 1,000 years ago or so, the earth was 99% slave by one name or another, and 1% masters. Now it is almost the other way around, with only 1% hanging on to thuggery for and as government. El Duce wannabe Saddam Hussein was hanged recently, and there are only a few true throwbacks out there anymore. Burma's government should read the writing on the wall. They should read Machiavelli again. They could still be part of the solution, or one of the last gasps of an ugly history.

    August 11, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  3. John, Brooklyn, New York

    Making a statement about how terrible the house arrest of a duly elected head of the BURMESE government is easy. (Yes, I refer to BURMA because the name was changed by the junta that deposed Suu Kyi and the new name has never been recognized by the US.) However, the military rule of Burma has been much more oppressive and evil than any other country that the US government continues to force sanctions upon – including Cuba. So, Mr, Obama, where's the muscle behind your rhetoric?

    August 11, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  4. Randolph Carter

    That's why we need to invade Myanmar. They'll greet us as liberators! Have a nice day!

    August 11, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  5. Babs

    Thank you President Obama. I applaud your response to this matter.

    Ok, let's hear the Republicans come up with their normal opposition. Come on....I'm waiting. Remember, he can't do anything right according to you Repubs. Don't you think he should have been working on Health Care instead of taking the time out to make a verbal condemnation of this unjust verdict?

    Someone just has to put a negative spin on this or you won't make my day. I need some humor. I depend on you Repubs for that.

    August 11, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  6. Mississippi Mike

    It's funny how he is so supportive of outspoken free thinkers in other countries but tries to marginalize the townhall protesters and tea parties within his own borders. On second thought, it's not funny at all.

    August 11, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. Bro. Lee

    I don't see a awful amount of people vying to be first about this topic.
    This woman is what we take for granted in America. Freedom.
    Yea we talk about President Obama being a socialist, One year ago you would not have had these town hall meeting acting this way with Cheney in office. Everyone kept their mouth shut and followed along.
    Suu Kyi is serving a life sentence. Because she believed in what she was doing. God Bless Her.

    August 11, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  8. Whazzup

    Sounds like whats happening in this country.

    August 11, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  9. Zero.

    So does the rest of the Free World. Mr Obama.

    August 11, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  10. Gerry

    What a bunch of idiot dictators trying to bully Suu KYi. Why are they afraid of her.

    August 11, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  11. Willy Brown

    She must be a commie if Obummer supports her.

    August 11, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. Murad Faizullah

    General Than Shwe is ten times more worse than Saddam or any dictators that we know from the history book. The military government did not relinquish power to the democratically elected party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The free world should take joint action against the junta who are suppressing the poor people of Burma with iron fist. Before the military usurping power, Burma was a peace-loving and prosperous country next only to Japan in Asia. In the almost 50 years of their rule, they have thrown the country to dogs. They have made Burma one of the poorest country in the world although endowed with the most fertile land, precious gems, world best known teak and peace loving people. The military is filling up their coffers at the cost of the nation. Please, do something to get rid of them and let freedom flourish in the land of Buddha. May the good Lord be with Ms Suu Kyi and the Burmese people and may the end of the junta be near.

    August 11, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  13. Pot meet Kettle

    I voted for you Mr President but watch your step. It is easy to fling the dirt outside your own yard.
    Last time I checked Amnesty International lists Leonard Peltier as a political prisoner.

    August 11, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  14. sharon

    she should be free.

    August 11, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  15. Bluebonnet

    Obama had better mind the business at hand here and stay out of other countries' business.

    August 11, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |