‘The case was held in open court… I don’t think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge…’
(AFP) Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday robustly defended the jailing of two Reuters journalists who were reporting on a military scandal, as she hit back at global criticism of a trial widely seen as an attempt to muzzle the free press.
The country’s de facto leader acknowledged that the brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority—which the United Nations has cast as “genocide”—could have been “handled better” but insisted 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, were each imprisoned for seven years last week for breaching the country’s hardline Official Secrets Act while reporting on atrocities committed during the military crackdown.
Challenging critics of the verdict—including the UN, rights groups who once lionised her—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 said during a discussion at the World Economic Forum, adding the pair still had the right to appeal.
Suu Kyi, once garlanded by leftist doves as a global rights champion, has come under intense pressure to use her moral authority inside Myanmar to defend the pair. From 1989 to 2010, she was a political prisoner under house arrest for her role in leading the democratic movement in the Southeast Asian nation. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while a prisoner in 1991.
Upon release, she was elected into the Myanmar Parliament, and has occupied an impressive number of titles within the government, despite being considered “leader of the opposition.”
While the Nobel Prize committee has taken heat for many of its forays into political issues—especially its pre-emptive Peace Prize to Barack Obama, its award to Al Gore for his global warming advocacy, and its Economics Prize to failed financial forecaster (and New York Times political hack) Paul Krugman—it is rare to see left-wing globalists expressing their buyer’s remorse.
However, Suu Kyi’s comments drew an indignant response from rights groups who have urged her to press for a presidential pardon for the reporters.
“This is a disgraceful attempt by Aung San Suu Kyi to defend the indefensible,” said Amnesty International’s Minar Pimple, describing the leader’s comments as “a deluded misrepresentation of the facts”.
“The international condemnation heading Aung San Suu Kyi’s way is fully deserved, she should be ashamed.”
Army-led “clearance operations” that started 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 ferocity of that crackdown has thrust Myanmar into a firestorm of criticism as Western goodwill evaporates towards a country ruled by a ruthless junta until 2015.
A UN fact-finding panel has called for Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing and several other top generals to be prosecuted for genocide.
Suu Kyi, who has bristled at foreign criticism of her country, on Thursday softened her defense of the crackdown against “terrorists” from the Muslim minority.
“There are of course ways (in) which, in hindsight, the situation could have been handled better,” she said.