Historic Yangon villa where Aung San Suu Kyi was held for 15 years under threat

Ousted leader’s estranged brother has won a court case allowing villa, considered a symbol of democracy in Myanmar, to be sold

The future of the lakeside villa in which Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest is feared to be in jeopardy, after a court ruled in favour of her estranged brother, allowing the property to be sold.

The colonial-style house at 54-56 University Avenue, which stands besides Yangon’s Inya Lake, is – for many in Myanmar – a symbol of the country’s struggle for democracy.

For decades, however, Aung San Suu Kyi has been locked in a legal battle with her older brother Aung San Oo, an engineer who lives in the US, over ownership of the house. He first filed a legal suit in 2000, and the case has been examined by the courts multiple times since.

The latest hearings proceeded as Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, was again imprisoned. She has been detained since February 2021, when the military ousted her government and took power in a coup. She has been accused of dozens of charges, which rights groups say are politically motivated.

Hillary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi walking together on the lawn in front of the villa
Hillary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi in the grounds of the house in 2011. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AP

Aung San Oo told the Guardian that the recent decision by Myanmar’s supreme court in Naypyidaw had supported an earlier 2012 ruling that he was entitled to an equal share of the property.

“In 2012 it was stated that if we cannot agree how to physically divide it up then it will be legal to auction off and split whatever money … The last court hearing a few weeks ago was to confirm that,” he said.

Aung San Oo declined to confirm whether he has plans to sell the property, saying this was a private matter. He disagreed that it was a site of historic significance.

The two-acre (0.8-hectare) property was given by the government to their mother, Khin Kyi, after their father, the independence hero general Aung San, was assassinated in 1947. Khin Kyi died in 1988, shortly after the military’s brutal crackdown on huge pro-democracy uprisings, which Aung San Suu Kyi had helped lead.

Aung San Suu Kyi was first placed under house arrest in 1989, and would spend 15 years in the villa until 2010. Cut off from the world, she would listen to BBC radio for hours each day, read books and meditate.

At weekends, she would give pro-democracy speeches from the villa, standing on top of a table to address vast crowds gathered outside the gate of the compound. Hundreds or even thousands would gather to hear her speak.

Later, President Barack Obama and then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton travelled to the villa to meet Aung San Suu Kyi during a historic visit.

She has not lived in the house since her release in 2012.

The property, though in a dilapidated condition, is estimated by Aung San Oo’s lawyer to be worth $90m, according to reports. Aung San Oo was unable to share court documents.

Local media also reported the court had ruled in Aung San Oo’s favour.

Last week, the national unity government (NUG), which was formed by elected lawmakers as well as civil society activists in opposition to the coup, said it had declared the house a site of national heritage, which would prevent its sale or destruction. Such a declaration cannot be enforced until the military junta is overthrown, however.

“This is not just a house or property, this is the place where she was held for more than 15 years in her life,” said Dr Sasa, a spokesperson for the NUG. “This is a powerful symbol of hope for the people of Myanmar.”

Aung San Suu Kyi was not given representation during the court’s latest proceedings regarding the house, he added.

The court case is one of many Aung San Suu Kyi has faced over the past 18 months. A series of convictions in military-controlled courts since the coup have led to a total prison sentence of 20 years. Further cases against her are continuing and could lead to decades more time in prison.

Contributor

Rebecca Ratcliffe and Aung Naing Soe

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Myanmar junta sentences Aung San Suu Kyi to five years for corruption
Deposed leader has been detained since a military coup in 2021 and has been charged with offences ranging from fraud to violating the official secrets act

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

27, Apr, 2022 @4:35 AM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi could face two years in jail over ‘illegal’ walkie-talkies
Ousted Myanmar leader facing prison as civil disobedience campaign against military coup grows

Rebecca Ratcliffe and Guardian reporter in Yangon

03, Feb, 2021 @4:14 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi's party returns to power in Myanmar
Election result is likely to further entrench divisions within the country, particularly resentment within minority communities

Rebecca Ratcliffe, south-east Asia correspondent

13, Nov, 2020 @4:00 AM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi tattoos flourish among Myanmar's resistance
Studios report surge in requests for tattoos of the deposed civilian leader – and some are using their profits to support protesters

A reporter in Yangon

24, Feb, 2021 @4:19 AM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi moved to solitary confinement, says Myanmar junta
Ousted leader, held at secret location for past year, charged with at least 20 offences and could spend rest of life in jail

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

23, Jun, 2022 @9:43 AM

Article image
Fact check: Aung San Suu Kyi's speech on the Rohingya crisis
Address by de facto leader of Myanmar on forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Muslims contained truths, half-truths and falsehoods

Oliver Holmes, South-east Asia correspondent

20, Sep, 2017 @7:39 AM

Article image
Myanmar: thousands attend funeral of Aung San Suu Kyi adviser
Death of Muslim lawyer Ko Ni, shot in the head at Yangon airport, highlights persecution of Muslims in the country

Poppy McPherson in Yangon and Aung Naing Soe

30, Jan, 2017 @2:31 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi defends her handling of Myanmar violence
De facto leader says country is facing its biggest challenge as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee

Michael Safi

07, Sep, 2017 @3:10 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of Freedom of Edinburgh award
Nobel peace prize winner loses seventh honour over refusal to act over violence committed by Myanmar military against Rohingya

Hannah Ellis-Petersen South-east Asia correspondent

22, Aug, 2018 @5:10 AM

Article image
Myanmar’s junta condemned over guilty verdicts in Aung San Suu Kyi trial
First verdicts announced in cases against Myanmar’s former leader, who was deposed in a coup in February

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

06, Dec, 2021 @2:12 PM