FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) — Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance rejoiced at Myanmar's release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and expressed hope it represented a symbolic gesture signaling greater freedoms for people of the nation historically known as Burma.
Suu Kyi, founding general secretary of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, has been held by Myanmar's military rulers for 15 of the past 21 years. She is one of more than 2,200 termed political prisoners held under laws that human-rights organizations say criminalize peaceful political dissent.
The Baptist World Alliance released a statement two days after her Nov. 14 release expressing hope that it "will be the first step toward full democracy, respect for human rights, and national reconciliation for people of all ethnic groups."
Baptists have strong historic ties with Burma. Adoniram Judson, an American Baptist missionary, first entered the country in 1813 and remained in Burma until his death in 1850. He is remembered today as a pioneer missionary and for his translation of the Bible into Burmese.
In 2006 the Baptist World Alliance General Council passed a resolution both recognizing Baptists' historic links with Burma and affirming solidarity with Myanmar's current citizens suffering hardships imposed by the military junta in control since 1962.
The resolution called in particular for the release of Suu Kyi. It asked the United Nations to "take appropriate action for the protection of the lives and rights of Myanmar citizens, including their right to religious freedom."
Now that Suu Kyi has been given her freedom, the new Baptist World Alliance statement urged Myanmar "to take further and urgent steps to expand the rights and freedoms of all its citizens, in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
BWA leaders also called "on all Baptists to continue to pray for the end of all human rights abuses in Myanmar."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.