Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the jailing of two Reuters news agency journalists who were convicted of collecting state secrets, adding that they can appeal their seven-year sentence.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each imprisoned last week after they were found guilty of breaching the country’s hardline Official Secrets Act while reporting on atrocities committed during the military crackdown in Rakhine state.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists, they were jailed because … the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act,” Aung San Suu Kyi said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Hanoi on Wednesday.
The journalists were investigating the killing of Rohingya villagers by security forces at the time of their arrest last December, and had pleaded not guilty.
Their imprisonment prompted an international outpouring of support, including a call for their release by US Vice President Mike Pence.
World reacts to sentencing of Reuters journalists in Myanmar
“I wonder whether many people have actually read the summary of the judgement which had nothing to do with freedom of expression at all, it had to do with an Official Secrets Act,” said Aung San Suu Kyi.
“If we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgement was wrong.”
When asked to comment on Pence’s call to release the journalists, the Myanmar leader responded by asking if the critics felt there had been a miscarriage of justice.
“The case has been held in open court and all the hearings have been open to everybody who wished to go and attend them and if anybody feels there has been a miscarraige of justice I would like them to point it out,” she said.
On Wednesday, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were honoured by a foundation set up by the late Win Tin, one of the country’s most prominent political prisoners and a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In granting the prestigious award, the foundation said it would oppose their convictions and demand their release.
Earlier on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi said her government could have handled the situation in Rakhine state better.
“There are of course ways in which we, with hindsight, might think that the situation could have been handled better. But we believe that for the sake of long-term stability and security we have to be fair to all sides … we cannot pick and choose who should be protected by the rule of law.”
Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine after government troops led a brutal crackdown in the state in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on 30 Myanmar police posts and a military base in August 2017.
Last month, UN investigators said Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent”, and that the commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted for the gravest crimes under international law.
Myanmar has denied allegations of atrocities, saying its military carried out justifiable actions against militants.
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