Aung San Suu Kyi

  • Share
  • Read Later
Dominique Aubert / Sygma / Corbis

Aung San Suu Kyi

One of the world's most celebrated advocates of democracy is facing prison time after a bizarre visit by an American who swam to her home. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest and moved to prison after John Yettaw was caught swimming away from her lakeside compound on May 5. Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years after clashing with the country's brutal ruling junta. The charges against Suu Kyi, who is 63 and reportedly in poor health, come just weeks before the scheduled end of her detention and carry a sentence of up to five years. Yettaw, 53, reportedly stayed for two nights in her central Rangoon compound after arriving unexpectedly from the lake complaining of cramps and exhaustion. He also faces prison time. A lawyer for Suu Kyi called Yettaw a "nutty fellow" and says she pleaded with him to leave. Some observers say the military is seizing on the incident to prolong Suu Kyi's detention and discourage pro-democracy forces ahead of next year's elections. (See pictures of Burma after Cyclone Nargis.)

Fast Facts:

• Born June 19, 1945 in Rangoon. Her father, Aung San, was commander of the Burmese Independent Army and is considered the father of modern Burma. He was assassinated when Suu Kyi was 2.

• Her name (pronounced Awng-San-Sue-Chee) is a blend of her mother's, father's and grandmother's names. She's known in Burma simply as the Lady.

• Attended Oxford University after spending four years in India, where her mother served as Burma's ambassador. Later attended graduate school in New York and worked briefly at the United Nations.

• Married a British professor and lived abroad until 1988, when she returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother and became a leading advocate for democracy and human rights amid a brutal crackdown by the nation's junta.

• In 1989 she was placed under arrest without trial in her family's white-shuttered home for the first time. The party she led, the National League for Democracy, won more than 80% of parliamentary seats in the following year's election, but the junta ignored the results.

• Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 — news she learned by listening to a BBC radio broadcast. The prize was accepted by her two teenage sons.

• Fearing she would not be allowed to return to Burma, Suu Kyi chose not to leave the country to visit her husband, Michael Aris, as he died of cancer in England in 1999.

• Released and subsequently rearrested several more times through 2003.

• For much of the 1990s, spoke to large crowds at her front gate every Saturday and Sunday.

• A Buddhist, she told an interviewer she rises each day at 4:30 a.m. for meditation and reads voraciously. Neighbors said she once played Mozart on the family piano, but the music stopped early in her detention.

Quotes from:

"I don't believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without endeavor, so we work to try and bring about the situation that is necessary for the country."
—TIME, Nov. 15, 1999

"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."
—From her book, Freedom from Fear, published in 1991

"The concept of driving somebody out of their own country is totally unacceptable to me. They have tried to pressure me to leave the country in ways that no self-respecting government should try."
—New York Times, Feb. 15, 1994

"Whatever they do to me, that's between them and me; I can take it. What's more important is what they are doing to the country."
—New York Times, Feb. 15, 1994

"I think corporations should give more attention to this suffering and should wait to invest until there is a responsible government in Burma. I do not think it is a good idea to separate economics from politics; in fact, I do not think economics can be separated from politics."
The Progressive, March 1997

Quotes about:

"She has in every way possible emulated what her father stood for, which was for the right of the people to govern themselves and to have a free and democratic country. Her stubbornness is her strength."
—Josef Silverstein, a Burma expert at Rutgers University (New York Times, June 19, 2005)

"We unequivocally condemn this attempt by the junta to cloak its continued detention of Suu Kyi in a veil of legitimacy."
—Jared Genser, an attorney for Suu Kyi (Bloomberg, May 14, 2009)

"Suu Kyi's struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades."
—Norwegian Nobel Committee, 1991

Read about Burma's ethnic minorities.

See TIME's Pictures of the Week.