Another Somber Milestone for Suu Kyi

On Friday, Aung San Suu Kyi will celebrate her 64th birthday. As in previous years, she will do so from the confines of a captive space — but not the family home that has been her prison for 13 of the last 19 years. This year, the Nobel peace laureate will spend the day in Yangon’s Insein prison, awaiting the verdict of a trial largely viewed as purely political.

Suu Kyi faces a sentence of five years in prison over charges she broke the terms of her house arrest by giving quarter to an American man who illegally swam to her family compound. The real strategy behind the trial, almost all observers agree, is to prevent her from participating in elections scheduled for 2010.

Suu Kyi and her prolonged period of detainment are a constant cause within the human rights community, and capture diplomatic and popular attention around birthdays and anniversaries, as well as when the anticipated end date of her house arrest approaches.

Despite the ruling junta’s invariable extensions of her detention, “the Lady’s” dignified, solitary stand continues to capture hearts and minds around the globe.

“A woman full of dignity and finesses, energy and calm, intelligence and compassion,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wrote of Suu Kyi in last Friday’s New York Times. “For over 20 years, her refusal of fear accompanies us, mobilizes us, forces us to defend her against a despicable regime.”

This year, as Suu Kyi’s birthday approaches, an online campaign for her freedom organized by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Open Society Institute and the U.S. Campaign for Burma is drawing star power,as well as the power of online social networking.

The campaign, 64 Words for Aung San Suu Kyi, which launched May 27, invites supporters to tweet, write text messages, or send video or pictures to its web site ahead of her birthday. Dozens of former political prisoners, Hollywood stars, Nobel laureates and politicians — including actresses Julia Robert and Demi Moore, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Nobel peace winner Shirin Ebadi — have answered the call.

“We must not stand by as she is silenced again. Now is the time for the international community to speak with one voice,” Julia Roberts tweeted in support of the campaign.

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