Gordon Brown has sent an extraordinary message of personal support and solidarity to the imprisoned Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, telling her she is "not alone" and heaping pressure on the country's military junta to release her from house arrest.
In a heartfelt letter, seen by The Independent, the Prime Minister makes clear that he regards Ms Suu Kyi as the rightful leader of her country, referring to the Burmese as "your people". "We should not rest until you are able to play your rightful role in a free and secure Burma," he wrote, adding: "I want you to know: you are not alone."
Ms Suu Kyi was charged last week with violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American man who had swum across a lake to visit her to stay in her home for two days. She could face up to five years' confinement for the intrusion.
Mr Brown's open letter includes a pledge to fight her cause and encourage Burma's Asian neighbours "to work even harder for your release and that of all political prisoners in Burma". He has long admired Ms Suu Kyi, 63, who was first placed under house arrest 20 years ago. In 2007, he dedicated a chapter of his book on courage to her, comparing her fight to bring democracy to Burma to that of Nelson Mandela's struggle in South Africa.
"People are standing with you, not just here in Britain but everywhere that democracy and freedom are upheld," he writes. "We are heartened by your tremendous courage, your inspirational leadership, and by the knowledge that no oppression is so great that the forces of liberty cannot prevail."
Ms Suu Kyi went on trial in Rangoon yesterday following last week's incident. The British ambassador was denied access to the proceedings, which are being held behind closed doors. In Brussels, meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband discussed with his European counterparts how they might help Ms Suu Kyi.
Downing Street sources said Mr Brown hoped his intervention would help focus attention on the Nobel Peace Prize winner's plight at a time when she faces fresh persecution from the military junta. He hopes the move will encourage other world leaders to make a similar gesture.
It is not the first time he has used an open letter to express solidarity with Ms Suu Kyi. He and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, wrote a similar message on her birthday last summer, saying her release from house arrest was "essential". However, his latest reprimand to the Burmese junta goes much further. He states: "The people of Burma have suffered nearly half a century of conflict and isolation, it is time to embrace a new beginning. So I say to the generals who imprison you: the time for a transition to democracy is now. By excluding you from that future, by silencing and imprisoning you, they condemn your country to further decades of poverty and exclusion."
Ms Suu Kyi's supporters in Britain were delighted with the Prime Minister's intervention, but said his words must lead to concrete action against the junta. Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, said: "We want to see him now pick up the phone to world leaders, as he has done in the past, to push for further sanctions and visa restrictions against the regime that has imprisoned her for so long."
Read the full text of the letter