Aung San Suu Kyi, at present the world's most celebrated political prisoner, on Saturday spent her 65th birthday in forlorn circumstances under arrest at her lakeside residence in Yangon.
Amid worldwide calls and rallies for her immediate release, Myanmar's military rulers allowed her the luxury of receiving a lonely visitor, an old friend, who carried a few birthday gifts for her.
The elderly man, Ko Ni, is the only civilian granted daily access to Ms. Suu Kyi's residence under the watchful eyes of the junta's guards outside her house. Day after day, he has delivered food and other essentials as required by the pro-democracy campaigner and her two female assistants.
On Saturday, the junta made a gesture of allowing Mr. Ko Ni to carry some excess baggage — bouquets and birthday cakes for the Nobel Peace Laureate. These were sent by some of her long-time political associates and followers. However, the leaders of her National League for Democracy, which stood dissolved last month under the junta's new rules for a promised general election, had no such luck to greet her on this special day. Asked about this over the telephone, an erstwhile NLD leader gave a simple but profound answer: “We can't [greet her]!”
Mr. Ko Ni carried some goodies for the female assistants of “The Lady”, as Ms. Suu Kyi is known in Myanmar, and for the workers now engaged in renovating her mansion, which has also been her prison for a number of years. Within the house, the junta allows her “total freedom of movement” and she can watch local television and listen to radio that might help her catch some international news sometimes but she has no telephone or internet connection. Just over a week ago, Nyan Win, Ms. Suu Kyi's political associate, was allowed to meet her, and he later reported that she was in good health and very alert. On Saturday, Mr. Nyan Win organised a Buddhist and secular ceremony to mark her birthday. Chaired by Win Tin, a seasoned political activist, the event featured traditional offerings to Buddhist monks, a read-out of Ms. Suu Kyi's old speeches, and donations of books to the children of political prisoners. Young people participated in the event, giving hope to the former NLD leaders that the democracy movement might still triumph.
Last year, when Ms. Suu Kyi was being held at a detention bungalow in the premises of a notorious prison in Yangon, pending her first-ever trial, she marked her birthday under acute surveillance. In a traditional way, she gave food, consisting of Indian biriyani, to the security officials, and they accepted the offering.