Suu Kyi defends court decision to jail Reuters reporters

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday robustly 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 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 in Rakhine state.

Suu Kyi, once garlanded as a global rights champion, has come under intense pressure to use her moral force inside Myanmar to defend the pair.


Challenging critics of the verdict — including the UN, rights groups who once lionised her, and the US Vice President — 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.

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,” said Sean Bain of the International Commission of Jurists.

“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 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.

The International Criminal Court has said it has jurisdiction to open an investigation, even though Myanmar is not a member of the tribunal.

Suu Kyi, who has bristled at foreign criticism of her country, on Thursday softened her defence 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.

War on journalism

But she also appeared to turn responsibility onto neighbouring Bangladesh for failing to start the repatriation of the nearly one 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 countries, she said.

Yet Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship while the Buddhist-majority public falsely label them “Bengali” interlopers.

Rohingya refugees refuse to return to Myanmar without guarantees of safety, restitution for lost lands and citizenship.

The jailing of the Reuters reporters has sent a chill through Myanmar’s nascent media scene.

The pair has denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the village of Inn Din in September last year.

This week, the UN rights office 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”.

A UN panel is set to release the second part of its report into the atrocities over the coming days.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Jenny Vaughan
Jenny Vaughan
AFP Vietnam bureau chief based in Hanoi, via Hong Kong, Washington, Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda.

Related stories

Why the Gambia’s plea for the Rohingya matters for international justice

In early December, the International Court of Justice heard arguments filed by the Gambia against Myanmar for violations of the Genocide Convention. This included...

Aung San Suu Kyi at the ICJ: when the personal is political

Myanmar’s leader personally faces allegations while avoiding the task of changing the country’s trajectory

Freed Myanmar journos a symbol of Suu Kyi’s tarnished image

Suu Kyi was once the darling of the foreign media, but her silence over the persecuted Rohingya minority has drawn widespread condemnation

Myanmar grants jailed Reuters journalists amnesty

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were mobbed by media as they stepped out of Yangon's notorious Insein prison after their lengthy detention

Top Myanmar court rejects appeal of Reuters journalists

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been behind bars since their arrest in December 2017 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act

Myanmar’s opium farmers cling on to lucrative crop

In 2018, the area of opium poppy cultivation in the country dropped by 10% to 37 300 hectares from the previous year
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Fifteen witnesses for vice-chancellor probe

Sefako Makgatho University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati had interdicted parliament last month from continuing with the inquiry

Constitutional Court ruling on restructuring dispute is good for employers

A judgment from the apex court empowers employers to change their workers’ contracts — without consultation

Audi Q8: Perfectly cool

The Audi Q8 is designed to be the king in the elite SUV class. But is it a victim of its own success?

KZN officials cash in on ‘danger pay for Covid-19’

Leadership failures at Umdoni local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal have caused a ‘very unhappy’ ANC PEC to fire the mayor and chief whip
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday