Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday defended the jailing of two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the Rohingya crisis, as she hit back at global criticism of a trial widely seen as an attempt to muzzle the free press.
The nation’s de facto leader said that the brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority — which the UN has cast as genocide — could have been “handled better,” but added that the two reporters had been treated fairly.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists, [but because] the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, last week were each imprisoned for seven years for breaching the act while reporting on atrocities committed during the military crackdown in Rakhine State.
Aung San Suu Kyi has come under intense pressure to use her moral authority inside Myanmar to defend the pair.
Challenging critics of the verdict — including the UN, rights groups who once lionized her and US Vice President Mike Pence — to “point out” where there has been a miscarriage of justice, Aung San 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 said during a discussion at the World Economic Forum in Hanoi, adding that the pair still have the right to appeal.
Her comments drew an indignant response from rights groups who have urged the Nobel laureate to press for a presidential pardon for the reporters.
“Open courts are designed to shed light on the justice process,” International Commission of Jurists legal adviser Sean Bain said. “Sadly, in this case, we’ve seen both institutional and individual failings to hold up the principles of rule of law and human rights.”
Army-led “clearance operations” that started in August last year drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities — rape, murder and arson — by Burmese police and troops.
The ferocity of that crackdown has thrust Myanmar into a firestorm of criticism as Western goodwill evaporates toward a nation ruled by a ruthless junta until 2015.
A UN fact-finding panel has called for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and several other top generals to be prosecuted for genocide.
The International Criminal Court said it has jurisdiction to open an investigation, even though Myanmar is not a member of the tribunal.
Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday also appeared to turn responsibility onto Bangladesh for failing to start the repatriation of the nearly 1 million-strong Rohingya refugee community to Myanmar.
Bangladesh “was not ready” to start repatriation of the Rohingya in January as agreed under a deal between the two nations, she said.
The jailing of the Reuters reporters has sent a chill through Myanmar’s nascent media scene.
This week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights accused Myanmar of “waging a campaign against journalists.”
It decried the use of the courts and the law by the “government and military in what constitutes a political campaign against independent journalism.”
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