WASHINGTON — Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, on a landmark visit to the United States, called Thursday for the release of jailed members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.
The opposition lawmaker, who spent 15 years under house arrest, said she "would like the whole group to be released as soon as possible," during an event sponsored by the rights group Amnesty International.
"Was ... anything in the song that was nasty to other people?" asked the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was freed at the end of 2010.
A Moscow court last month sentenced three members of Pussy Riot to two years in a labor camp for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred over a performance against President Vladimir Putin in an Orthodox cathedral.
When told her comments could be seen as criticizing the Russian government, she said -- to the laughter and applause of the crowd -- that "governments must be prepared to take criticism."
"It's a different matter if you are insulting other people individually," Suu Kyi told the audience, which included Pyotr Verzilov, husband of one of the imprisoned singers.
The band is scheduled to begin an appeal on October 1.
In other remarks at Washington's Newseum, a museum dedicated to media and journalism, Suu Kyi said the years she spent confined to her home were "worth it."
"I never thought I was making any sort of sacrifice. I never thought I was suffering," she said. "I never forgot that I was much more fortunate than my colleagues who were in jail."
Myanmar was ruled by an iron-fisted junta for decades but, since taking office last year, a reformist government under former general Thein Sein has freed political prisoners and allowed Suu Kyi's party into electoral politics.
Suu Kyi said she has "always been very fond of the military," adding that her father, who was assassinated in 1947, "founded the modern Burmese army."
"My earliest memories of him were in uniform," the opposition leader said, using Myanmar's former name.
She also condemned the use of violence, saying those who resort to it are "undermining the very foundations of human rights."
Later in the day, Suu Kyi took part in a ceremony honoring five fellow Myanmar citizens who suffered under the country's military regime and were awarded the National Endowment for Democracy's 2012 Democracy Award.
Those lauded included Min Ko Naing, a key leader of both the 1988 student movement and the 2007 "Saffron Revolution"; Hkun Htun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy; film director Kyaw Thu; doctor Cynthia Maung; and Aung Din, another leader of the 1988 student movement and co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma.
"To be honored is great but to honor is even greater," Suu Kyi said. "I feel very happy that today I'm in the position to honor my fellow countrymen and women."
Suu Kyi has been in Washington since Monday as part of a three-week trip across the United States. The pro-democracy activist has received a rapturous welcome during the visit, her first since her release from house arrest.
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