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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8100

Ms GRIERSON (8:16 PM) —I, too, rise in support of the member for Wills’s private member’s motion deploring the Myanmar regime for pressing new and spurious charges against Dr Aung San Suu Kyi, for her ongoing detention and persecution and condemning the regime for continuing to deny her fundamental human rights, notably those which prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, guarantee the right to a fair trial and guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Her incarceration is a gross injustice of the most serious kind, an incarceration by a regime that is afraid of Dr Suu Kyi’s ability to organise and unite the people of her country against its authoritarian rule.

Dr Suu Kyi’s credentials and her international reputation are undoubted. Winner of the Nobel Prize Peace Prize in 1991, Dr Suu Kyi has received vocal support from many countries in the world, including Australia. In 2007, in a vote of 400 to nil, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States congress, the US House of Representatives, receiving the medal in 2008. She was the first person in history to receive the prize while imprisoned and that is the tragedy of it all. So how is it that an individual of such prestige and such honour can continue to be imprisoned on such spurious charges? In the 1990 general elections Suu Kyi was elected to be Prime Minister as leader of the winning National League for Democracy party which won 59 per cent of the vote and 394 of the 492 seats. Her subsequent detention by the military junta prevented her from assuming office. Certainly, should she face another election, she would undoubtedly win but she has instead been under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years. Her latest charges and detention stem from an incident in May of this year when an American citizen, John William Yettaw, swam across to her private compound. Protesting exhaustion, he stayed at her residence for two days, supposedly, before making the return swim when he was subsequently arrested. Dr Suu Kyi was arrested for violating the terms of her house arrest under Burma’s so-called Law Protecting the State Against the Dangers of Subversive Elements.

Last week Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years with labour, but the sentence was reduced to 1½ years home detention. The sentence removes any prospect of Aung San Suu Kyi participating in Burma’s elections, no doubt elections that would have seen her as the people’s choice to lead the country to freedom and democracy. The Australian government has since condemned her most recent arrest. Dr Suu Kyi’s situation is one of only thousands of similar incarcerations in Myanmar. It is estimated that in the last 18 months alone, the period leading up to the next elections, the number of political prisoners in Myanmar has doubled. Her detention is symptomatic of the ongoing internal situation in Burma. Unless significant political, economic and social reforms occur, the threat the regime poses to its people and to the region surrounding it will only continue to increase. I join my government in repeating its call for the regime to release Aung Sang Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally and to release the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar.

Australia maintains financial sanctions against the Burmese regime. The government will now move to update these, as we have heard from the member for Wills, looking at the senior members of the judiciary, and to keep them focused for maximum impact. I strongly support these sanctions knowing full well that the majority of the Myanmar people will suffer continuously while the privileged few of the junta still live very well and that the sanctions will hurt the regime and its supporters the most. It is still not too late to set aside the conviction and the sentence, release Aung San Suu Kyi and move the regime down the path of national reconciliation. I applaud Dr Suu Kyi for her courage in peacefully protesting the democratic rights of the people of Myanmar over all these years with great dignity and civility. I finish with an excerpt from one of Dr Suu Kyi’s most famous speeches, ‘Freedom from fear’. It begins:

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.