State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi knew that two Reuters reporters accused of possessing state secrets would be found guilty months before Monday’s verdict because she had privileged information about the case, according to a spokesperson for her party.
“She has her own facts that could support her ability to comment on the case,” National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson Dr. Myo Nyunt told Coconuts shortly after reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years with hard labor under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The two reporters were arrested in Dec. 2017 while they were working on a story that would later expose a massacre of Rohingya civilians by Myanmar troops in northern Rakhine State the previous September. While the state counsellor made almost no public comments about the case, members of her government have maintained that she had no influence over the outcome, insisting that the judicial process would determine whether the reporters were guilty of possessing secret government information.
In June, however, Aung San Suu Kyi broke her silence during an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK. When the interviewer asked her whether the arrest of the two reporters while covering human rights abuses in Rakhine State constituted a limitation on freedom of speech in Myanmar, Suu Kyi replied: “They weren’t arrested for covering the Rakhine issue. They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act.”
Rights groups promptly criticized her for presuming their guilt and prejudicing the verdict, which ultimately came out as she predicted.
However, despite the revelation that Suu Kyi knew the verdict since June, Dr. Myo Nyunt insisted that the NLD itself had no influence over it.
“We don’t want to comment on the case. It’s all under the judicial system. We are separate, just like just like the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The party has no comment on those particular sectors,” he said.
When asked whether the NLD was satisfied with the rule of law and the judicial system in Myanmar, he said: “I think these sectors need to be improved. The people working within these sectors should try to improve them.”
Despite condemnations of the guilty verdict from the UN and several foreign governments, Suu Kyi has resumed her policy of silence. Deputy information minister Aung Hla Tun defended this policy, telling AFP: “Criticizing the judicial system would be tantamount to contempt of court. I don’t think she will do it.”
Asked whether he thinks the state counsellor’s comment in June influenced the outcome of the case, Reuters Asia editor Kevin Krolicki said: “I think the only full answer could come from the government.”
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse on Monday, Krolicki called the guilty verdict an “injustice”, adding that “the government of Myanmar now has a responsibility to set this right”.