- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday called for the release of three female members of a Russian punk rock band jailed for interrupting a ceremony inside a Moscow cathedral to protest President Vladimir Putin.

“I would like the whole group to be released as soon as possible,” Mrs. Suu Kyi said at an event sponsored by human rights group Amnesty International at the Newseum in Washington.

“I don’t see why people shouldn’t sing whatever it is they want to sing. I think the only reason people should not sing is if what they are singing is deliberately insulting or if they sing terribly,” she said to laughter.

The three women were each sentenced to two years in prison.

Earlier, Pyotr Verzilov, husband of one of the women, Nadia Tolokonnikova, and their four-year-old daughter, Gara, presented a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Suu Kyi.

Mrs. Suu Kyi asked if there was anything in the songs that was “nasty to other people.”

When informed by Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, that some people could be offended by the band’s performance, Mrs. Suu Kyi responded: “It is a different matter if you are insulting individuals, but governments must be prepared to take criticism. Governments which are not prepared to take criticism will never turn out to be good governments,” she added.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years as a political prisoner under Myanmar’s former military government, said she still felt a deep affection for the army, which was founded by her father, Aung San.

While the military kept her under house arrest, “they treated me as a member of the family, albeit a very troublesome one,” she joked.

Mrs. Suu Kyi has been criticized by rights activists for not condemning the persecution of stateless Muslims, called Rohingyas, who have been raped, arrested and killed by Myanmar security forces, following deadly clashes in June between the Muslims and the majority Buddhists in the western part of the country.

“I think you should not use emotive words like persecution,” Mrs. Suu Kyi said in response to a question from an audience member on the plight of the Rohingyas. She described the situation in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state as communal violence.

“Condemnation does not necessarily bring about reconciliation,” she said. “Sometimes … it creates obstacles on the path of reconciliation.”

Myanmar’s relations with the West have improved rapidly over the past year as its president, Thein Sein, a former general, has pushed reforms in his country. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released, opposition political parties legalized, restrictions on the press eased and laws enacted to strengthen workers’ rights.

Mrs. Suu Kyi said that as international businesses rush to Myanmar to invest in the Southeast Asian country, every effort must be made to ensure that this investment is “democracy-friendly” and “human rights-friendly.”

Asked if her sacrifice had been worth it, she replied: “I never thought I was making any sort of sacrifice. … I always thought of myself as following a path that I had chosen for myself.”

Mrs. Suu Kyi met President Obama and received Congress’ highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on Wednesday.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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