Aung San Suu Kyi has decided to defend the jailing of two Reuters journalists who were reporting on Rohingya murders, as she hit back at global criticism of the trial that was seen as an attempt to gag the media.
Myanmar’s state counsellor admitted in her speech at the World Economic Forum in Vietnam that the bloody expulsion of the Muslim community in Rakhine State could have been “handled better” but insisted the Reuters pair had been treated fairly.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists … the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said, in reference to the colonial-era legislation that was used to justify their prosecution.
This month Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each jailed for seven years, despite testimony in court from a police captain that his commander had ordered that the pair be framed.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, has come under intense pressure to use her moral authority to defend the reporters and the Rohingya.
But, apparently determined to preserve her position in government and her relationship with the military, Suu Kyi said the Reuters case upheld the rule of law.
The conviction had “nothing to do with freedom of expression at all”, Suu Kyi said, defending the actions of the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the judiciary.
“The case was held in open court… I don’t think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge,” she told the event. The reporters had the right to appeal, the tarnished democratic icon said.
Human Rights Watch responded to Suu Kyi’s speech by saying that she “got it all wrong”.
“She fails to understand that real ‘rule of law’ means respect for evidence presented in court, actions brought based on clearly defined and proportionate laws, and independence of the judiciary from influence by the government or security forces,” Asia spokesman Phil Robertson said.
“On all these counts, the trial of the Reuters journalists failed the test.”
A UN fact-finding panel has called for Myanmar’s most powerful figure, commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, and several other generals to be prosecuted for genocide.
The International Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction to open an investigation, although Myanmar is not a member.
Suu Kyi appeared to soften her defence of the Rakhine crackdown against alleged Muslim “terrorists”.
“There are of course ways which, in hindsight, the situation could have been handled better,” she told the event.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s international appearances will become increasingly rare. Picture credit: Wikimedia