Hopes for a presidential pardon for two jailed Reuters reporters have dimmed after State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi defended a Yangon court’s decision to sentence them to seven years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists…The court has decided that they broke the Officials Secrets Act,” she said at the ASEAN World Economic Forum (WEF) in Hanoi, Vietnam, this morning.
She also said the pair “were not jailed because they were journalists”, and she accused critics of not having read the court’s decision.
“I don’t think anyone has bothered to read it,” she said. “I would like them to read the judgment and point out where there has been a miscarriage of justice.”
Accusations of a miscarriage of justice have abounded since Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December while investigating a massacre of Rohingya civilians by Myanmar troops and police. In January, Suu Kyi’s then-friend and veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson resigned from an advisory board on the crisis in Rakhine State after she refused to allow the board to discuss the reporters’ case. He called the board a “whitewash” and accused Suu Kyi of lacking moral leadership”.
Another accusation of miscarried justice came from Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, a police officer who was present for the massacre Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating, served as a source for their reporting, and was later ordered by a senior police official to arrest Wa Lone. In April, when called by the prosecution to testify against the reporters, he instead exposed the plans to entrap them, and he was soon thereafter sentenced to a year in prison for speaking to the reporters.
“Aung San Suu Kyi once again got it all wrong when she spoke about the Reuters journalist verdict in Hanoi,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“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. On all these counts, the trial of the Reuters journalists failed the test,” he said.
After the reporters were sentenced on Sept. 3, Wa Lone told his supporters in the courtroom: “We have no fear. We know what we did. It was just about getting information.”
Waves of military violence have sent nearly a million Rohingya civilians fleeing from their homes in Rakhine State into Bangladesh since Oct. 2016. UN investigators have accused military leaders of genocide and Suu Kyi of having “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes”.
At the WEF event this morning, the state counsellor also said the situation in Rakhine State, which included the rape and murder of thousands of Rohingya, “could have been handled better”.