The wives of two Reuters reporters who were found guilty on Monday of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act spoke out last night to defend their husbands’ work and to condemn the role Aung San Suu Kyi played in punishing them for it, including by ignoring direct pleas for assistance.
“They were completely innocent. They just did their jobs as media professionals. The judge told them that they brought shame to their nation,” said Chit Su Win, wife of 28-year-old reporter Kyaw Soe Oo.
He and his colleague Wa Lone, 32, were sentenced to seven years with hard labor by a Yangon court after nine months of hearings. They were arrested in December while investigating a military massacre of Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State. Government officials have insisted that their charges were not related to their reporting, but the defense argued that police entrapped the two reporters in order to silence them.
Their sentencing this week prompted appeals from the rights groups, foreign diplomats, and the UN for their immediate release. Most of the appeals have been directed at Aung San Suu Kyi, who controls Myanmar’s civilian government. She has not yet commented publicly on the verdict.
Nor has she communicated privately with the families of the two reporters, according to Pan Ei Mon, wife of Wa Lone.
“In the beginning, I sent letters to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to President Htin Kyaw. I also sent letters to seven ministries, and when the presidency changed, I sent a letter to the new president,” she said. She received no replies from these offices, aside from that of Shwe Mann, a former parliament speaker and current chairperson of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission in parliament, which only confirmed that her letter had been received.
Pan Ei Mon also criticized a remark Suu Kyi made in June during an interview with the Japanese broadcaster NHK. Responding to a question about the two reporters’ arrest while reporting on human rights issues in Rakhine State, the state counsellor replied: “They weren’t arrested for covering the Rakhine issue. They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act.”
Pan Ei Mon responded to Suu Kyi’s presumption of her husband’s guilt, saying: “The leader of our country did not know the case well.”
She went on to describe how she used to delight in listening to Aung San Suu Kyi’s speeches in English while riding buses or taxis, even though she couldn’t understand the language, because she looked up to her.
“I loved her and respected her so much, but she said [our husbands] were not reporters because they violated the nation’s secrets, and I am very devastated by that answer,” she said.
Chit Su Win also addressed the state counsellor while describing the loss her husband’s verdict has inflicted on her family.
“I thought [Kyaw Soe Oo] would be there when [our three-year-old daughter] started kindergarten, but it didn’t happen. Now, I hope that when my child goes to first grade or second grade, our family will be together again. I want my happy family life back. I want my husband back with me at home again.”