Myanmar’s state counsellor and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has spoken up for the first time since the country’s judiciary jailed two Reuters journalists for reporting on the Rohingya crisis. In her first public comments since the verdicts were handed down to Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo last week, Suu Kyi insisted their imprisonment was justified and that the case had “nothing to do with freedom of expression”.
She said Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo “were not jailed for being journalists” but for breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act. “They were jailed because sentence has been passed on them, because the court has decided they have broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said, addressing the World Economic Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Aung San Suu Kyi seemed almost combative and challenged people to read the judgment and “point out where there has been a miscarriage of justice”. “I wonder whether very many people have actually read the summary of the judgment which had nothing to do with freedom of expression at all, it had to do with an Official Secrets Act.” She added that the “rule of law” meant that “they have every right to appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgment was wrong”.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo said they were targeted for their investigation into the human rights abuses and mass killings of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar military. The violence, which the UN has condemned as both genocide and ethnic cleansing, saw almost 9000 Rohingya die and more than 700,000 become refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Aung San Suu Kyi has also been silent on the mass exodus of the Rohingya from the state of Rakhine. She has been criticised by international organisations who expected her to push back against this action by the Myanmar’s army. Many have even rescinded honours given to her for her fight to bring democracy to Myanmar.
On the Rohingya crisis, Suu Kyi said, “There are of course ways in which, with hindsight, the situation could’ve been handled better,” said Suu Kyi. “But we believe that in order to have long-term security and stability we have to be fair to all sides. We can’t choose who should be protected by rule of law,” she said.
Suu Kyi’s silence and hence an almost tacit support to the actions in Rakhine state are evidence that Myanmar’s military junta has true control of the country.