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400 S'poreans and Burmese gather at Speakers' Corner.

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

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Chetan Rogbeer / Pictures by Andrew Loh

Around 400 people gathered at Hong Lim Park on Sunday for a vigil in support of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyu. Ms Suu Kyi is currently undergoing a trial, behind closed doors, in Burma for breaching the rules of her house arrest by allowing an American, John Yettaw, to stay at her residence.

Mt Yettaw had swam across a river to Ms Suu Kyi's house and stayed there for three days uninvited. He was caught by the Burmese authorities while attempting to leave her house.

Ms Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, mostly under tight security and in virtual isolation.

Candle light vigils were held simultaneously in Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Malaysia on Sunday. The peaceful demonstration at Speakers’ Corner began at around 5.30pm and ended slightly after 7pm. The crowd consisted of mostly young Singaporeans and Burmese nationals, many dressed in yellow t-shirts, with posters and banners of Ms Suu Kyi.

Braema Mathi addressing the crowd

 

Ms Braema Mathi, the chairperson of Maruah which organized the event, said that it is high time for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released and that the world, including the Burmese people, want her freed. She added that the junta needs a reality check because keeping her in detention will only turn public opinion against the military regime.

She said that ASEAN, along with India and China, should lobby Burma for change. She felt that no country in this day and age can afford to be on its own and if enough pressure was exerted collectively on Burma, the junta will be forced to release the opposition leader.

Choo Zheng Xi

 

Mr Choo Zheng Xi, from The Online Citizen, urged Singaporeans to 'use every avenue of free speech that we have to push our government to do more and press for her release, because we can'. He recounted how he met Burmese free media activists in Kuala Lumpur last year who smuggled information into Burma using thumb drives to overcome the information blockade by the military regime. He said that it is not power that corrupts, but fear, the fear of losing power by those who wield it. 

"We need to know that we are guided in our mission for the cause of justice. We need to frame our position in the language of pragmatism. Governments seldom listen to abstract sentimentalism. So let us do this. Let us remind our government that the regime will fall - because they are on the wrong side of history."

Ravi Philemon

 

Mr Ravi Philemon, a social activist, urged ASEAN to do more than simply releasing statements condemning the re-arrest of Ms Suu Kyi. Calling the charges ridiculous, he made the analogy of a prison guard seeing a stranger in a prisoner's cell and then blaming the prisoner for it when in fact, it is the guard who should be held responsible. He found it strange that no charges have been filed against the policemen guarding Ms Suu Kyi for the obvious security lapse.

Filmmaker Ho Choon Hiong

 

Mr Ho Choon Hiong, a filmmaker, made the most passionate speech of the afternoon asking for the release of Ms Suu Kyi. His hand shaking slightly while holding the microphone, he asked Singaporeans to do something about the situation in Burma and not be armchair critics. His ten minute speech was interrupted several times with loud applause. He urged Singaporeans to start blogs, sign petitions or write to their Members of Parliament to bring awareness of the plight of Ms Suu Kyi.

"I understand that the Singapore government wants to resolve this issue through dialogue with the military junta  and that we should not isolate them further, but when will it be enough?"

Section of the crowd

 

Mrs Dana Lam, the new president of AWARE, was also present to lend her support to the event. She acknowledged that she has not followed the events closely in the press but said that Ms Suu Kyi should be freed and the charges dropped. Mr Alex Au, from yawningbread.org, felt that the situation in Burma is 'absolutely deplorable'.

'It is necessary for us to raise our voices. It is absolutely clear the governments around the world, representing the feelings of their own people, cannot tolerate this,” he said.

 

Leaders from all over the world have called for the release of the Burmese opposition leader and have condemned the trial.

"We need to see real change in Burma -- the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the institution of meaningful dialogue between the junta and the opposition," Us Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday, as reported by AFP.

If found guilty, Ms Suu Kyi faces five years in prison, effectively ruling her out of the next general elections.

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