It was always a safe bet that the military junta that rules Myanmar was going to come up with some way to extend the house arrest of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the prodemocracy forces in her country. The absurd charges leveled against her last week is proof yet again that the government is truly shameless.

Responding effectively to this latest outrage poses a challenge — not only for countries that have preferred to turn a blind eye to the junta’s transgressions, but also for regime critics like the United States whose policies have been equally ineffectual in promoting change in Myanmar.

Myanmar, once known as Burma, has been ruled by military juntas since 1962. Their misguided, ill-conceived and paranoid policies have turned one of Asia’s potentially richest countries into an economic nightmare. In 1990, the leadership thought it enjoyed enough legitimacy to hold national elections. It was shocked to discover that the people preferred a representative government. The opposition National League of Democracy (NLD), led by Ms. Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory, but the government refused to honor the results. Instead, it imprisoned thousands of democracy activists, Ms. Suu Kyi among them.

While Ms. Suu Kyi has been spared the worst abuses by being subject to house arrest rather than the horrors of Insein Prison, she has nevertheless had her movements restricted for 13 of the last 19 years, and been held virtually incommunicado.

The democracy movement refuses to die in Myanmar, however. Ms. Suu Kyi remains a focal point for human rights advocates around the world, and the NLD continues to press for reform in Myanmar. Their refusal to give up should motivate their friends and allies to maintain their own vigil and to keep pressure on the junta.

Plainly, the government — known as the State Peace and Development Council — is not oblivious to international censure. While refusing to honor the election results or to release the democracy activists, the government has developed a “road map to democracy” that is intended to provide a veneer of legitimacy for its continued rule. Among the markers on that road map are general elections scheduled to be held next year. It has been widely speculated that the junta was looking for a way to hold elections without risking a loss and thereby perpetuate its rule: Having ignored one ballot, that option seemed hard to repeat.

Instead, the actions of a U.S. citizen have given the junta the pretext it needed. Mr. John William Yettaw reportedly swam across Inya Lake in Yangon, and spent two days in Ms. Suu Kyi’s lakeside compound earlier this month. Harboring the visitor gave the government the excuse it needed to charge her with violating the terms of her detention; her trial at a special court at Insein Prison begins on May 18. She could be sentenced to up to five years in prison for the offense. Two women who work for Ms. Suu Kyi were also charged.

Little is known about Mr. Yettaw. He is said to be a war veteran who lives on disability pay. He is alleged to have visited Ms. Suu Kyi last year as well, but was told to leave. This time, he reportedly swam across the lake and, complaining of diabetes and exhaustion, insisted on staying. He too has been arrested and charged with violating Myanmar’s immigration laws.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house arrest was scheduled to expire May 27. Her supporters expected the order would be extended, even though Myanmar’s law limits house arrest to five consecutive years before the accused must be freed or face trial. Extension of the detention last year — for a sixth year — triggered an appeal by Ms. Suu Kyi, but the junta denied it.

This move gives the junta the pretext it needs to extend her arrest and isolation. It also violates one of the three conditions the NLD demanded for its participation in next year’s ballot — the release of Ms. Suu Kyi. An NLD decision to boycott the election would be fine with the junta, as it would ensure a junta win with a minimum of vote chicanery.

The rest of the world cannot acquiesce to this farce. All parties must condemn this transparent move to rig the election and silence Ms. Suu Kyi. But condemnation is not enough. There must be actions that send an unequivocal message to Myanmar’s government that business as usual cannot continue. Especially important are the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has pleaded for engagement with Myanmar — with very little result — and China, which has hesitated to take action on the pretext of respecting the internal affairs of a neighbor. Neither policy has worked and both undercut desires by ASEAN and China to play a larger regional role.

At the same time, however, it must be noted that the hardline position that calls for isolating Myanmar has not worked either. Plainly, a strategy of carrots and sticks is only effective when it is coordinated and all nations work together.

The junta must learn that its indifference to accepted norms of international behavior have negative consequences. But there must also be incentives for it to move closer to the international mainstream. That strategy has yet to be developed. The time to do so is now.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.