Along the shores of artificial Inya Lake, the empty compound of Aung San Suu Kyi lies within plain sight as couples stroll the path. Her home is also a curious attraction to onlookers from a hotel a minute’s walk away.
But it is her absence from it that has been on people’s minds lately in and around Yangon — a hub of commerce and scholarship and the epicenter of anti-government sentiment — with the trial of the democracy leader set to resume yesterday.
The failure of visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to gain a meeting with the opposition leader last weekend or to win Suu Kyi’s release seems to have only intensified widespread feelings of gloom and frustration, though only brief interviews were possible without raising suspicions in this police state.
The trial of Suu Kyi, who turned 64 in the city’s Insein Prison last month, had been postponed during the UN secretary-general’s visit.
There had been some hope that intervention by the international community might have avoided the continuation of the Nobel Prize laureate’s trial.
Suu Kyi faces trumped-up charges that resulted from a bizarre incident involving an American who swam to her home across the artificial lake, a popular place for leisurely walks and sailing.
“I will never see real democracy flourish in Myanmar. Not in my lifetime. We live in a hopeless situation where even the UN secretary-general fails to nudge the stubborn regime,” said U Hla Shwe, a 72-year-old retired lawyer.
The New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday that junta leader Senior General Than Shwe denied Ban’s request for a prison visit because “the case is being heard freely and fairly, so they have no right to arrange a meeting between the UNSG and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”
“Daw” is a term of respect.
Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail on charges of violating the terms of her long-standing house arrest, after the uninvited American man, also imprisoned at Insein, swam to her tightly guarded lakeside home and stayed two days. He made the same swim last year.
Her defense was to call a second witness yesterday. Then Suu Kyi’s defense plans to ask the court to give it sufficient time — about a week — to prepare for closing arguments. A separate date is expected for the court to deliver the verdict, which could still be appealed.
Her supporters and human rights groups see the trial as an excuse for the government to throw her back in jail, now that they’ve reached the legal limit on detaining her. She has spent nearly 14 of the last 20 years in detention, mostly under house arrest.