The former Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi no longer has the freedom of the city of Brighton and Hove after a unanimous vote by councillors.
The 78-year-old former State Counsellor of Myanmar – equivalent to a prime minister – was given the freedom of the city in 2011 in recognition of her fight against totalitarianism.
At the time she had already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the US Congressional Gold Medal during long years spent under house arrest in Burma which now calls itself Myanmar.
Councillors voted to remove the honour because from 2016 to 2021 Aung San Suu Kyi led the country when the Rohingya Muslim community faced what many have described as genocide.
Brighton and Hove City Council leader Bella Sankey said today (Thursday 19 October) that the freedom of the city was the highest honour that the council could bestow.
At a meeting of the full council, the Labour leader said that Aung San Suu Kyi was the only woman to have received the honour rather than “men from certain socio-economic backgrounds”.
Councillor Sankey said that the council would look at who should receive the honour in the future – and would vote on bestowing the freedom of the city on the woman’s suffrage pioneer Mary Clarke at a special meeting later in the year.
In 2018, the council held a vote to remove the freedom of the city from Aung San Suu Kyi but did not achieve the required two thirds majority.
Councillor Sankey told the meeting at Hove Town Hall: “Aung San Suu Kyi has had the chance to extend her noted defence of civil rights to her Rohingya compatriots but has consistently chosen not to do so and has been seen as complicit in much of what had been happening.”
Labour councillor Mohammed Asaduzzaman said: “Her failure to speak up against the violence inflicted on the Rohingya Muslims is in conflict with our City of Sanctuary values of human rights and democracy here in our city Brighton and Hove.
“It is at odds with the spirit in which this council awarded her this honour. It is in conflict with the hope that we all placed in her for a better future for her country.”
Green councillor Sue Shanks said that it was important that the council reviewed who received the freedom of the city.
She said: “Very few of us live blameless lives and (very few) commit offences after the event. We want to remove the freedom of the city and think very carefully about who we give it to.
“Also, what benefits it might bring when we award (the freedom) to people.”
Conservative councillor Anne Meadows recalled the vote in 2011, shortly before she became mayor, and wondered why someone without a link to the city was given the honour.
Councillor Meadows said: “This should never have happened. (The honour should be awarded to) only those who are considered to have given service to the city for a long time – someone who has benefited this city and all of its residents.”
Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested in February 2021 when the army seized power and is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence.
Her crimes, which critics of the military regime said were politically motivated, include renting land to a charity below the market price.