A cry for freedom

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A cry for freedom

Myanmar democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released last weekend from house arrest imposed by the military government for the past seven years. She has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest.

But her release does not directly translate into the hope that Myanmar will immediately move toward a democracy, as the country has been suffering under harsh military dictatorship for 48 years and the number of political prisoners still amounts to around 2,200.

Moreover, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won a landslide victory in the latest general election by gaining 75 percent of all the seats in parliament. Although the election was held by the junta in the name of transferring power from a military government to a civilian one, it was ridden with fraud and corruption.

One can hardly accept the results as reflecting the true voice of the voters. Therefore, we can hardly be optimistic about the democratic future of Myanmar.

Surrounded by thousands of supporters in front of her party’s headquarters after her release, the pro-democracy leader said, “The basis of democracy is freedom of speech,” adding that the people should continue to urge the military to give them basic rights.

According to the latest survey by Freedom House on freedom of speech among 196 countries, Myanmar is rated as the least free country in the world only after North Korea.

Promoting democracy and human rights without freedom of speech is akin to building a house without a foundation. Suu Kyi’s first cry for that freedom after being released must be a natural conclusion from the decades-old democracy movement.

Suu Kyi said, “I don’t feel any animosity toward the people who kept me under house arrest ... the security officials treated me well. I want to ask them [the junta] to treat the people well also.”

She also expressed her willingness to meet with General Than Shwe, Myanmar’s military dictator and head of the ruling junta, extending warm hands of reconciliation, forgiveness and dialogue to a symbol of tyranny despite her long hardship.

Now it is the junta’s turn to answer her gesture. No doubt the first step is the freedom of the press as that is the only way for the country to free itself from suppression, destitution, isolation and corruption.

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