The future of the lakeside villa where Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest is feared to be in jeopardy, after a court ruled in favor of her estranged brother, allowing the property to be sold .
The colonial-style house at 54-56 University Avenue, which stands beside 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 United States, over ownership of the house. He first filed a lawsuit in 2000, and the case has been brought to court several times since.
The latest hearings took place as Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, was once again imprisoned. She has been detained since February 2021, when the military overthrew her government and seized power in a coup. She has been charged with dozens of charges, which rights groups say are politically motivated.
Aung San Oo told the Guardian that Myanmar’s Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Naypyidaw upheld an earlier ruling from 2012 that he was entitled to an equal share of the property.
“In 2012 it was said that if we can’t agree on how to physically divide it, it will be legal to auction and split the money… The last court hearing there a few weeks was to confirm that,” he said.
Aung San Oo declined to confirm if he plans to sell the property, saying it is a private matter. He disagreed that it was a site of historical significance.
The two-acre (0.8 hectare) property was given by the government to their mother, Khin Kyi, after their father, independence hero General Aung San, was assassinated in 1947. Khin Kyi is died in 1988, shortly after the brutal repression by the army. about the massive pro-democracy uprisings that 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 listened to BBC radio for hours each day, read books and meditated .
On weekends, she gave pro-democracy speeches from the villa, standing on a table to address vast crowds gathered outside the gate of the compound. Hundreds or even thousands gathered to hear him speak.
Later, President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the villa to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi in a historic visit.
She has not lived in the house since her release in 2012.
The property, although in dilapidated condition, is valued by Aung San Oo’s lawyer at $90 million, according to reports. Aung San Oo was unable to share court documents.
Last week, the National Unity Government (NUG), which was formed by elected lawmakers as well as civil society activists opposed to the coup, said it had declared the house a national heritage site , which would prevent its sale or destruction. However, such a statement cannot be enforced until the military junta is overthrown.
“It’s not just a house or property, it’s where she was held for over 15 years in her life,” said NUG spokesperson Dr Sasa. “It is a powerful symbol of hope for the people of Myanmar.”
Aung San Suu Kyi was unrepresented in the latest legal proceedings over the house, he added.
The lawsuit is one of many that Aung San Suu Kyi has faced over the past 18 months. A series of convictions in courts controlled by the army since the coup led to a total prison sentence of 20 years. Other cases against him are ongoing and could result in additional decades in prison.