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Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday behind bars

  • 19 June 2009
Sitting inside a small, purpose-built cell within Burma's notorious Insein prison, democracy leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi today turns 64.

Suu Kyi, no stranger to long periods of isolation, will most likely spend part of her day in meditation: a practice that she admits sees her through the most difficult times.

Like the hundreds of other political prisoners who suffer ill-treatment inside Burmese jails, she may also notice the little things that those on the 'outside' often overlook: birds chirping, the measured walk of an insect across a wall, the sound of late afternoon rains rolling overheard, distant city sounds — cars, horns and buses.

For the first time, rather than being under house arrest, Suu Kyi is being held on criminal charges. She faces the prospect of spending between three to five years behind bars in the former capital's central prison.

Just long enough, observers say, for the Burmese generals to keep her out of the way in the lead up to planned elections in 2010, and away from the transitional process that the elections may usher in.

Suu Kyi was due to be released on 27 May. However, the arrival of a strange and unexpected visitor, American tourist, John Yettaw, changed all that.

Yettaw made his second visit, this time in a much publicised two kilometre swim across Inya Lake to her compound, where she was held under house arrest for nearly 14 years. Observed by policemen who, according to Yettaw, threw rocks at him, he was able to elude security personnel and enter the compound.

Inside, he pressed Suu Kyi's two female assistants from her political party, the National League for Democracy. After initially asking him to leave, Suu Kyi agreed to let him stay the night due to his apparent poor health.

For the Burmese military authorities, having confined Suu Kyi for the maximum length of time under the terms of their own laws, Yettaw's visit was timely. Burma requires all non-family overnight visitors to be registered and forbids overnight stays by foreigners. Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest.

Charged under Section 22 of the aptly titled 'Law Safeguarding the State from the Dangers of Subversive Elements', on 14 May she was ordered to stand trial in Insein prison. The charges and trial met with widespread condemnation from the international community. But Burmese authorities