Myanmar's Suu Kyi defends jailing of Reuters reporters

Myanmars Suu Kyi defends jailing of Reuters reporters
Myanmar's Suu Kyi defends jailing of Reuters reporters. Reuters/Kham
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Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, rejected claims that two Reuters journalists who were jailed last week for seven years on charges of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act were incarcerated because of their profession.

"They were not jailed because they were journalists. They were jailed because…the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act," the Nobel Peace laureate said in response to a question during the ASEAN World Economic Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday.

When asked whether she felt comfortable about the court's judgment, Suu Kyi responded: "I wonder whether many people have actually read the summary of the judgment, which had nothing to do with the freedom of expression at all; it had to do with the Officials Secrets Act."

"If we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgment was wrong," she added.

Reuters correspondents Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were detained as they researched the killing of 10 Rohingya and other abuses involving soldiers and police in Inn Din, a village in western Rakhine state.

They argued that they had been framed by police officers who handed them official documents in a Yangon restaurant before arresting them on December 12. Lone and Soe Oo testified that they received harsh treatment during their initial interrogations. Several appeals for release were denied.

EU: Myanmar has failed media freedom

The EU blasted the verdict later on Thursday, and called for the reporters' immediate release, saying that they had not been given a fair trial.

"Many observers saw this trial as a test of freedom of the media, democracy and the rule of law in the country. It is pretty clear that the test was failed," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

"The sentence will also intimidate other journalists who could fear undue arrest or prosecution for doing their job."

Read more: Myanmar's democracy movement 30 years on – military still calls the shots

Free speech 'fading' in Myanmar

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler called the verdict against Lone and Soe Oo "a major step backwards for Myanmar's transition to democracy," adding that the "verdict must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency."

Ambassadors to Myanmar from the UN, US, UK and other countries, some of whom were present for the September 3 ruling, called for the reporters' immediate release.

Responding to the international criticism to the journalists' sentencing, Suu Kyi said, "The case has been held in open court and all the hearings have been open to everybody who wished to go, and attend them and if anybody feels there has been a miscarriage of justice, I would like them to point it out."

Kyaw Min Swe, a journalist from Myanmar and executive director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute, told DW that Suu Kyi's government was trying to "muzzle and control the media."

"We're frustrated by the fact that the authorities are trying to undermine the role of professional media as the fourth pillar of our democracy. That's why we are still facing difficulties in doing our jobs everywhere in the country. And journalists are facing even more trials and prosecution under this government than under the previous [military-dominated] government," said Swe, adding that free speech is clearly fading under the current administration.

Read more: Myanmar jails journalists — 'More trials and prosecution under civilian government'

'We can't pick and choose'

An icon of democracy in the Southeast Asian country, Suu Kyi has been widely criticized for her response to the Rohingya crisis, which the jailed Reuters reporters were investigating.

Read more: Opinion: The Rohingya crisis and Suu Kyi's silence

At least 700,000 people have fled the western state to neighboring countries since a violent conflict broke out between Rohingya insurgents and the Buddhist-majority country's military.

The UN said last month crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state amount to the gravest crimes under international law, and that Myanmar's military generals should face a genocide trial.

But on Thursday, Suu Kyi admitted that her government could have handled the crisis better.

"There are of course ways in which we, in hindsight, might think that the situation could have been handled better," Suu Kyi said. "But we believe that for the sake of long-term stability and security we have to be fair to all sides… We cannot choose and pick who should be protected by the rule of law."

Myanmar authorities have repeatedly denied discrimination against the Rohingya, a stateless ethnic group scattered around Myanmar, Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries. They argue the military action in Rakhine was necessary to stem militancy.

Read more: Rohingya genocide: Will Myanmar generals face ICC justice?

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