Aung San Suu Kyi defends verdict against Reuters journalists

Aung San Suu Kyi giving a speechImage copyright

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Ms Suu Kyi was once seen as a human rights icon

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the jailing of two Reuters journalists, despite international condemnation.

She said Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had broken the law and their conviction had “nothing to do with freedom of expression at all”.

The two were sentenced for possession of police documents while investigating the killing of Rohingya Muslims.

Ms Suu Kyi also said her government could in hindsight have handled the Rohingya situation differently.

Since last year, at least 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, also known as Burma, after the army launched a brutal crackdown in response to attacks by a Rohingya militant group.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate – who is not Myanmar’s elected president but is almost universally viewed as such – had been under intense pressure to comment on both the Rohingya crisis and more recently the journalists.

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

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Ms Suu Kyi broke her silence on the issue on Thursday while attending an international economics conference in Vietnam.

In a speech, she said the case upheld the rule of law and suggested that many critics had not actually read the verdict.

The two had “every right to appeal the judgement and to point out why the judgement was wrong”, she said.

The 73-year-old former activist, who spent more than a decade under house arrest during the military junta period, was once seen as a global human rights icon.

But her perceived failure to stop the rape and killing of Rohingyas has sullied her international reputation and several honours have been withdrawn.

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Media caption“We didn’t commit any crime”

Human Rights Watch responded to Ms 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,” Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said.

“On all these counts, the trial of the Reuters journalists failed the test.”

‘Set up by police’

The two journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on 3 September for violating the state secrets act while investigating a massacre of Rohingya men by the military at a village called Inn Din.

The two Myanmar nationals had been arrested while carrying official documents which had just been given to them by police officers in a restaurant.

They said they were set up by police, a claim backed by a police witness in the trial.

Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre took place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.

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The verdict against Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo (R) has been widely condemned

The Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination in Myanmar, which considers them to be illegal and problematic migrants from Bangladesh.

The latest crisis erupted when a brutal military crackdown was launched in response to a Rohingya militant group attacking several police posts.

In August, a UN report said top military figures in Myanmar must be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state and crimes against humanity in other areas.

The report describes the army’s response – including murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement – as “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”.

Ms Suu Kyi has not criticised the powerful military but on Thursday admitted that, in hindsight, “the situation could have been handled better” by her government.

“But we believe that for the sake of long-term stability and security we have to be fair to all sides,” she said. “We cannot choose and pick who should be protected by the rule of law.”

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