Time to get tough with Myanmar again
With democratic gains being eroded and trashed in the country, international pressure on the military and civilian leadership should now be increased
A United Nations fact-finding mission did not hold Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi directly responsible for the army campaign of terror that has driven most of the country’s Muslim population into Bangladesh, but delivered a damning verdict on her failure to use her moral authority to speak out against the bloodshed.
Within days of the UN report, the Nobel Peace Prize winner had an opportunity to salvage some respect in the trial of two local journalists set up on charges of breaching the official secrets act in a report published by Reuters. Once again she failed to speak out, this time in defence of a free press and the rule of law. She made no effort to save two brave and innocent journalists from being convicted on planted evidence and each jailed for seven years.
It was another betrayal of supporters at home and abroad who campaigned for her release from years of house arrest by the former military rulers. It is left to the international community and human rights agencies to call for an injustice to be put right and for the two journalists to be set free.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo pieced together the events that led to the slaughter of 10 Rohingya village men in the state of Rakhine. Their reconstruction of the killings and brutal crackdown by the military reflected countless instances of a systematic campaign that prompted the UN team to recommend army leaders be tried for genocide.
The pair pleaded not guilty to violating a colonial-era secrets law, an offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail. The proceedings were a travesty of justice, with a police witness even admitting the two were set up with documents given to them by police, after which they were arrested. Activists for press freedom had feared since June there would be an unfair trial, when Suu Kyi conveyed a presumption of guilt by telling a Japanese interviewer the two reporters “were arrested because they broke the official secrets act”.
International sanctions on Myanmar were lifted years ago in return for the release of political prisoners and liberation of the press. As democratic gains are eroded and trashed, international pressure on the military and civilian leadership should be wound up again.