Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi defends jailing of journalists who exposed Rakhine massacre, says critics didn’t bother to read the verdict

‘They were not jailed because they were journalists, but because the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 10:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 9:47pm

Myanmar’s unofficial leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday that two Reuters journalists jailed for investigating a massacre in Rakhine state were not convicted because they were journalists but because they broke the law.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each imprisoned for seven years last week for breaching the country’s hardline Official Secrets Act while reporting atrocities committed during the military crackdown in Rakhine.

The sentence prompted a storm of global outcry as an assault on freedom of speech, while erstwhile rights champion Suu Kyi came under intense pressure for failing to speak up for the pair.

The case was held in open court … I don’t think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge
Aung San Suu Kyi

She broke her silence on the issue on Thursday during a discussion at the World Economic Forum, robustly defending the court’s decision to jail the duo.

“They were not jailed because they were journalists” but because “the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act”, she said in her first direct comments on the issue.

Challenging critics of the verdict – including the United Nations, rights groups who once lionised her and the US vice-president – to “point out” where there has been a miscarriage of justice, Suu Kyi said the case upheld the rule of law.

“The case was held in open court … I don’t think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge,” she added.

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Army-led “clearance operations” last August drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities – rape, murder and arson – by Myanmar police and troops.

The Reuters reporters had denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the village of Inn Din in September last year.

This week, the UN rights office accused Myanmar of “waging a campaign against journalists”.

It decried “the instrumentalisation of the law and of the courts by the government and military in what constitutes a political campaign against independent journalism”.

Suu Kyi, who has so far bristled at foreign criticism of her country and defended the crackdown against “terrorists” from the Muslim minority, also addressed the army’s handling of the crisis.

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“There are of course ways [in] which, in hindsight, the situation could have been handled better,” she said in rare comments on the crackdown. “But we believe that in order to have long-term security and stability we have to be fair to all sides. We can’t choose who should be protected by rule of law.”

Myanmar has come under intense diplomatic pressure in recent weeks, with the UN rights office singling out its powerful military chief for his role forcing the Rohingya from the country.

Suu Kyi has fallen from grace in the international community over the crackdown. She won the Nobel peace prize in 1991 for her years speaking out for democracy and freedom of expression in Myanmar while under house arrest.

However in the last year several bodies have withdrawn major honours from her, for failing to protect the Rohingya. These groups include a major British trade union, the London School of Economics, the US Holocaust Museum, Dublin and at least four UK cities.

Inside Myanmar, however, she remains nearly as popular as ever, seen as a bulwark against both military encroachment into politics and international condemnation.

Additional reporting by The Guardian