Update on Aung San Suu Kyi and Net Neutrality

It’s been over two months since Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. It dawned on me that I hadn’t heard much about how she was faring, which I interpret as a good sign, and so I decided to check the world wide web and see.

According to the BBC, Suu Kyi “has obtained internet access . . . Technicians set up wireless broadband at her home after the military government authorised an internet connection.” Suu Kyi’s assistant has reported that she had not yet used her connection because the signal is too weak, and additionally, she has also been feeling a little too unwell to try the internet. Apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi has never been online.

The military dictatorship in Burma, strictly controls internet connections and those who apply for internet service must not be involved in politics. The Indo-Asian news service reports that “Soon after her release from house arrest, the 65-year-old leader said that although she would apply for the internet permit, she would fill in the form saying that she would participate in politics.”

The Mizzima news agency has this: ‘The connection is a communication technology called McWill. But, the telephone has not been installed. With this connection, she will not be able to use voice (internet telephony). Only an internet connection has been installed. Although they told us to provide 1 MB, currently she has received 512 KB. They said they would extend the bandwidth later.  The internet installation cost at 560,000 kyat (about $560). Suu Kyi will apply for a mail4you e-mail account, which is a product of Yatanarpon Teleport and the only officially authorised e-mail account in Burma. The authorities have access to all passwords for mail4you e-mail accounts.”

In the United States, the internet is pretty much unrestricted. In this country, we do have a dictatorship, though, but it is not the government, despite what some would like to claim, it is “big business.” And for some time now, our unrestricted use of the internet has been threatened. What’s at stake is a principle called “net neutrality”, a principle applied to users access to the internet. Basically, it means that internet service providers should not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It’s meant to provide a level playing field for all web sites, users and providers.

But cable and telephone companies want to charge money for easy and smooth access to Web sites, speed to run applications and download files, and permission to plug in devices. If you have a fairly fast connection presently, once these companies have their way, to keep it you will need to fork over more of your hard-earned cash or be left in the slow lane.

It’s all rather complicated. If you are unfamiliar with net neutrality or if you want to get up to speed with the latest developments, I suggest you take a look here, here and here.

Last week U.S. Senator Al Franken and Rep. Dennis Kucinich both warned of what the former describes as “a growing threat of corporate control on the flow of information in our country.”

We who live in “free” countries are  fortunate not to have the kind of restrictions on the internet that Aung San Suu Kyi is saddled with in Burma. Most of us, myself included, have a tendency to take it for granted. We should not.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

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Video of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Release

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi greets thousands of supporters over the fence of her Yangon house after she was freed. (STR, EPA / November 13, 2010)

As the Los Angeles Times reports, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Buddhist and the leader of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, was released from house arrest on Saturday. She said “I am so happy” as she greeted thousands of jubilant supporters at the gate of her compound.  “It’s very happy to see the people,” she said, barely audible over the chanting. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you.”

In a statement released earlier today, President Barak Obama called Suu Kyi a personal “hero” and called for the military regime to “release all political prisoners, not just one.”

Here are two videos of Daw (as she is called by her supporters) after her release. The first, obtained by ITN, shows the cheers the moment that she appeared before the crowd:

A news agency run by exiles from Myanmar based in India, Mizzima, posted more video of Suu Kyi meeting her supporters on its YouTube channel:

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Freedom?

The world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

As I write this shortly after midnight on Saturday, still no word on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. If you have been following the news and her story, then you are aware that she has been detained for 15 of the last 21 years by Burma’s military rulers.

It’s being suggested that she may not accept a conditional release if it excludes her from political activity. I hate to hit the sour note, but I wonder if Aung San Suu Kyi will ever be free. The last time she was physically free was in 2003. However, the generals put her under house arrest for the fourth time since 1989 following “The Depayin Massacre” in May 2003, when at least 70 people associated with the National League for Democracy (Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party) were killed by a  government-sponsored mob. No one really understands the true story of the 2009 trespass incident. So, this time will the government use some trumped up charges to arrest her again? Will they provoke another incident and hold her to blame? Will they just decide to get rid of her?

Aung San Suu Kyi's dilapidated lakeside home in Yangon, Burma (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Life for Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest is not at all easy. She is not allowed visitors, except for her doctor. She lives with two assistants in an old house that had its roof blown off in May 2008, after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma. She also lost her electricity and the only light she has had at night is candlelight. Plans to repair the house were announced in August 2009. From what I understand, so far very little has been done. I believe that is in the general’s hands as well.

I’m not into a lot of mystic stuff, but I do believe in good vibrations. So, regardless of whether she is released or not, I think it would be nice if many people sent her warm thoughts of loving-kindness, and good vibes for her continued safety and for her health and happiness.

Yesterday’s post was about rebels. Aung San Suu Kyi is not a rebel. She is a revolutionary. There’s a difference. She captures the spirit of what I mean in this from her book Freedom from Fear:

The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation’s development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.

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The World’s Only Imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate

Aung San Suu Kyi, prisoner of Burma, was born June 19, 1945.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

June 18, 2010

Statement by the President on the Birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi

I wish to convey my best wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi, the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate, on the occasion of her 65th birthday on June 19.  Her determination, courage, and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change in Burma inspire all of us who stand for freedom and justice.  I once again call on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to allow them to build a more stable, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of all its citizens.  Towards this end, I encourage all stakeholders in Burma to engage in genuine dialogue towards national reconciliation, a vital step to set Burma on a more positive course for the future.

Today, her 65h birthday, is also her 15th year under house arrest. Her two children will not be with her to celebrate. Aung San Suu Kiy has not seen her children for years, and in 1999, when her husband was dying, she was prevented from being at his side.

Aung San Suu Kyi won’t be going out to dinner in celebration. She won’t be going to a show. There will be no party. Likely she will receive a cake and perhaps some cards from her supporters, delivered by a family friend.  She lives in a dank, dark house with a crumbling roof, surrounded by soldiers, a prisoner of the ruling military junta.

What was her crime? She called for non-violent resistance against the military dictatorship that massacred thousands of protesting students. She founded a political party that won 82 per cent of the popular vote in the 1990 general election, and would have been appointed Prime Minister.

For those crimes the military junta nullified the election and placed Aung San Suu Kyi in jail, and then under house arrest, her status for all but five of the last twenty years.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a small, delicate, and beautiful woman with a soft but powerful voice. We can hear that voice from beyond the confines of her lonely prison. It has been called a fearless voice, a voice of hope, and it is a voice that cannot be silenced or suppressed, a voice that needs to be answered with millions of voices raised as one voice,  one mantra that must be recited over and over again around the world: FREE AUNG SAN SUU KYI.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi“Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilised man.

The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all setbacks the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute. At the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. It is man’s vision of a world fit for rational, civilised humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.”

From ‘Freedom from Fear’ in Freedom from Fear and other writings ed. Michael Aris (London: Viking, 1991)

I highly recommend this excellent interview in the Shambhala Sun in which she discusses at some length Buddhism and meditation: Conversations with Aung San Suu Kyi.

And, there are many ways in which you can stand with this remarkable woman. To learn about them, please visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Pages.

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Burma VJ

Another excellent film to recommend: Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, an award-winning documentary that follows some young Burmese journalists, armed with cameras,  risking torture and life imprisonment to shoot footage of the 2007 uprising led by Buddhist monks. During the protest, some 100,000 Burmese citizens took to the streets. The footage, smuggled out of the country, documents the brutal clashes between citizens and the military. Burma VJ is currently running on HBO.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party is now illegal. The National League for Democracy was disbanded on May 6.  21 years after the electoral victory never accepted by the military junta and Aung San Suu Kyi’s 14 years of house arrest, the League is declared illegal because it refused to register for the upcoming elections.

And, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi is still a prisoner . . . But, the Rangoon City Development Committee has issued an order giving the 64-year-old Nobel laureate permission to repair the roof of her house, badly damaged by storms in 2008.

Suu Kyi is Buddhist. She meditates daily and “memorizes” Buddhist sutras. In her acceptance message for the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1991, published as Freedom from Fear, she wrote:

It would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s pages here. You can also visit Amnesty International where you too can stand with her and the people of Burma.

Update: Suu Kyi supporters to form new political party.

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