Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’

A Cool Look at Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th December, 2012

Burma - photo Nic Dunlop

Burma – photo Nic Dunlop

Nic Dunlop is a Bangkok-based photographer and author who has spent most of the past two decades covering my old stomping ground, South East Asia. But this evening he was the guest speaker at a Liberal International British Group (LIBG) Forum at the National Liberal Club, giving his take on what is happening in Burma. He has recently completed a book which uses many of the striking black-and-white images he took in Burma, particularly in the mid-1990s but also since. Many of the photographs are chilling, including a series of a former political prisoner acting out the stress positions he was forced to adopt while he was being tortured. There is sullen resignation on the faces of peasants drafted in to do forced labour building roads and so forth. As Nic said inNic Dunlop his commentary to a slide show tonight, there was no need for armed guards to watch over them because they have been conditioned by years of fear. He had some good shots of Aung San Suu Kyi — including one of her at Oxford, receiving an honorary degree — but he is not starry-eyed about ‘The Lady by the Lake’. He pointed out that the woman who was rightly hailed as a political inspiration by many in the West has nonetheless deeply disappointed many human rights activists since her release from house arrest by refusing to condemn outright violence against specific ethnic minorities. Nic also made the interesting observation that it is not just the military, who have in principle now handed over to a civilian government after decades in power, who are firm believers in superstition and astrology. It is deeply engrained in the Birman people. I was struck that many of the scenes shown in his pictures, even in the capital Yangon/Rangoon, look exactly how I remember it on my one and only visit there in the summer of 1969. It is as if Burma is frozen in aspic, though under tropical rain. But now the country is opening up that is likely to change fast, in that some people with the right connections will make a killing by funding new developments, rather as happened in post-Communist states, though the poor masses are unlikely to benefit for the foreseeable future. Link:


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Pete Pattisson’s Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th June, 2012

The Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary Candidates Association (PCA) has produced several editions of Who’s Who in the Liberal Democrats, listing the parliamentary and civic achievements of leading members of the Party (or at least those who filled in the necessary form, as is indeed the case with ‘the’ Who’s Who). But I can’t help feeling that it would be more entertaining if a volume were produced which highlighted the creative side of Liberal Democrat activists. Some people might be surprised by the revelations. Pete Pattisson, Councillor for Whitefoot ward in Lewisham om south-east London, for example, is a notable photographer and film-maker who in recent years has particularly focussed on Burma (aka Myanmar). Over the last few years he has done a number of shorts for the Guardian, sometimes by entering Burma through Rangoon (Yangon), sometimes crossing the border from neighbouring countries. And this evening he shared some of these films with attendees at a Lewisham Liberal Democrats’ Pizza and Politics at his home. There is a lot that can make us hopeful about developments in Burma, after decades of military rule and repression, not least the release of hundreds of political prisoners and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (from house arrest). ‘The Lady’, as she is widely known, was successfully elected to the Burmese parliament in a by-election not so long ago, though she got her knuckles metaphorically rapped the other day by the men still in power for calling her homeland Burma (the old Britsh appelation) and not Myanmar, the name imposed by the junta. But as Pete’s clips — some of which you can find easily find on YouTube — vividly portray, life for many in Burma is still difficult, endemic poverty exacerbated by natural disasters and even the plague of rats attracted by the  twice-in-a-century flowering of bamboo. I have only been to Burma once, way back in 1969, when I was making my way slowly back from Vietnam, where I had been a cub reporter covering the War. The lasting image that stays in my mind, even at that time of a closed, impoverished country very much under the military’s heel, was the sublime atmosphere of the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. I circled it barefoot at sunset with Buddhist pilgrims, not a tourist in sight; visas were not readily given. Moreover, for years since then people in the West were urged to stay away from Burma, in protest at the junta’s restrictions. But today Aung San Suu Kyi has put out the welcome mat, saying that foreign visitors should go, not only to savour Burma’s special quality, but to link up with the people and help them along the road to a more open society.


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Liu Xiaobo and the Empty Chair

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th December, 2010

There was a moving ceremony in Oslo today as the Nobel Peace Prize was delivered to an empty chair — symbolising the imprisoned Chinese writer and human rights activist (and President of independent Chinese PEN) Liu Xiaobo. This is not the first time that a Nobel laureate has not been able to collect the prize in person, though in the past a spouse or close relative — in Aung San Suu Kyi’s case in 1991, it was her 18-year-old son — has stood in for the winner. But as Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia (and a number of their friends) are under house arrest, that was not possible in this case. China reacted furiously to Mr Liu’s selection — even referring to the Nobel Committee as an ‘evil cult’ — and warned Norway of dire consequences. But it is the People’s Republic that has shot itself in the foot, not only by giving the award huge worldwide publicity because of its tirades but also making it look foolish and vindictive by not allowing at least Mr Liu’s wife to go to Oslo to collect the citation. China is a signatory to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it has yet to fulfil many of its obligations on this front. Liu Xiaobo and other dissidents like him have bravely pointed this out, despite persecution. Hence his imprisonment. But his message is now heard louder than ever before.

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Save the BBC Burmese Service!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th September, 2010

There is a perverse topicality in the suggestion from the BBC World Service that it might be necessary to terminate the BBC’s Burmese language service, as it is currently celebrating its 70th year of existence. It is only right and proper that the World Service (which, unlike the domestic BBC is funded by the Foreign Office, not by the licence payer) should regularly review its language output. Sad though it was to see all the European language services closed over the past decade, it made little sense to keep on broadcasting to countries that had developed their own free media since the end of Communism. On the other hand, output in Arabic has rightly been increased and the Persian-language service has expanded, including into television. But it makes absolutely no political sense whatsoever to consider axing or even reducing the Burmese servce now. Burma — or Myanmar, as its military regime prefers to call it — is one of the most repressive countris on earth, ranked by Reporters without Borders as having the fifth least free media in the world. Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the last set of democratic elections in Burma in 1990, but was prevented by the military junta from taking office, has spent most of the intervening time under house arrest. She has personally testified how much the BBC Burmese Service has meant to her. I must declare an interest, as when I was writing daily commentaries on international affairs for the BBC World Service (on a freelance basis) from 1983-2003, the Burmese service frequently used them in translation. Even if that were not the case, however, I would be singing its praises and I am frankly shocked than anyone should even consider suggesting its being cut, for budgetary or any other reasons.

[Photo: Burma’s first Prime Minister, U Nu, appearing on BBC Burmese service radio)

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Aung San Suu Kyi Birthday Celebration photos

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd June, 2010

Photos of the commemorative event at the Barnet Multicultural Centre in Hendon on Sunday (courtesy Rosalind Izard:

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Aung San Suu Kyi: 65 and Still Not Free!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th June, 2010

Earlier today I joined several of my fellow members of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, numerous red-bandanna’d young Burmese and other well-behaved protesters outside the Burmese Embassy in London’s Mayfair, marking Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday, which actually falls tomorrow (19th June). I’ll be taking part in a big commemorative gathering in Hendon on Sunday as well. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) had an election stolen from them by the military in 1990 and she has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest. Many of her NLD colleagues and other political activists — including monks — have suffered far worse imprisonment, torture and death. Alas the world seems impotant to do anything about it, although the condemnations of the military’s behavious has been widespread. US President Barack Obama marked Suu Kyi’s birthday with a plea for her release. She has received many prizes — including Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom — but prizes and pleas are not enough. The Burmese regime, which is oe of the nastiest and least accountable on earth, needs to be brought to its knees or its senses.

[right hand photo courtesy Robert Sharp and English PEN]


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A Prize Too Far for Barack Obama?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th October, 2009

Barack Obama 2Barack Obama is a great guy. And after eight years of George W Bush, he has arrived in Washington and on the world stage not so much as a breath of fresh air as a strong, balmy breeze of change. Yet I am not alone among commentators in feeling that the decision to award him the Nobel Prize for Peace is uncomfortably premature. Surely these prizes are meant to mark outstanding achievement or many years of dedicated struggle against all odds. One thinks of past laureates such as Nelson Mandela, Shirin Ebadi and Aung San Suu Kyi, for example. What Barack Obama brings to the world is hope, but is aspiration enough to justify such an accolade? Surely it would have been better to wait until he had a chance to implement some of his ambitious schemes, such as trying to relaunch the Middle East peace process in a way that really will deliver a viable Palestinian state as well as security for Israel. I am not necessarily against giving the Nobel Prize to political leaders, including American Presidents, but I feel the example of Jimmy Carter, who got his many years after stepping down from office and engaging in all sorts of peace and humanitarian initiatives worldwide, was the sort of precedent to follow. Of course, it is entirely up to the Nobel Peace Prize committee who they choose and they have made far, far worse decisions in the past.  Think of Henry Kissinger and Menachem Begin, for example. I suppose we should be thankful that they didn’t go for Tony Blair. Still, I am saddened, not enthused, by the award to Barack Obama. One day, I trust, he will more than merit it. But after a mere nine months in office? Not really.

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Salford, Give Aung San Suu Kyi Her Freedom!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th September, 2008

  I spent the first 17 years of my life in Salford (though I was born in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, on the Protestant side of the River Irwell). I remember the council knocking down the magnificent Victorian mansions of ‘Millionaires Row’ and the tram lines being ripped up. The city’s only claim to fame at the time was ‘Coronation Street’; as a schoolboy in short trousers, I got a hair-netted Violet Carson’s autograph when I visited the Granada filming lot. These days, of course, it has all gone terribly up-market, what with the Lowry Museum and the BBC.

Now, thanks to Unison, the trade union, a new spotlight has fallen on Salford, as the debate rages as to whether the Freedom of the City should be given to the Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi — who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for yonks — or the Manchester United left-winger and occasional forward, Ryan Giggs. Well, I was almost brought up with a red scraf round my neck, but I hope Ryan Giggs is enough of a gentleman to recognise that Suu Kyi deserves it more than he does. Some people will complain that she has no real link to Salford, but then neither did Nelson Mandela, who was previously made a Freeman.

Aung San Suu Kyi has received numerous awards for her brave and dignifed struggle in opposition to Burma’s hideous junta. These include the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov prize and Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom (which I was pleased to see acknowledged in today’s ‘Guardian’). But as a Salford lad, albeit now a London immigrant, I would be thrilled if the city gave her its plaudits as well. I’ll even be writing to the MP for my own home seat (Eccles) about it, none other than Labour’s Red Squirrel, Hazel Blears.

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