AS international outrage grows over the widely-publicised jailing of two Reuters journalists, Burmese (Myanmar) leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday said that the sentencing has “nothing to do with their freedom of expression”.
Even though the United Nation’s human rights body accused her government of waging a war against independent journalism following the jailing of two Wa Lone and Kyaw Seo Oo for violating the country’s laws, Suu Kyi believed there has been no “miscarriage of justice”.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists… well sentence has been passed on to them because the courts have decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said during an international economic forum in Vietnam.
“So if we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgement and to point out why the judgement is wrong if they consider it wrong.”
The UN body released a report on Tuesday which examined five cases, including that of Wa Lone and Kyaw Seo Oo, who were sentenced to seven years prison for violating a local law on state secrets during their probe into the massacre of 10 men from the Rohingya minority.
The report entitled “The Invisible Boundary – Criminal prosecutions of journalism in Myanmar”, which examined freedom of the press since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in 2015, said it had become “impossible for journalists do to their job without fear or favour”.
Both men were nabbed in December last year, later claiming trial to accusations of being in possession of secret documents belonging to the government. During trial, they told the court the papers were handed to them by two police officials at a restaurant in Yangon, moments before they were arrested.
The group Reporters Without Borders estimates that around 20 journalists were prosecuted last year in Burma.
Despite the outcry, the Burmese government has insisted that the jailing of the two journalists under the colonial-era Official Secrets Acts did not involve hidden hands and was done in accordance to due process.
Suu Kyi also advised those against the sentencing to read the court’s summary on the verdict.
“And if anybody feels there has been a miscarriage of justice then I would like them to point it out,”
According to Reuters, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described Suu Kyi’s remarks as “unbelievable”.
Heyley’s response appeared to be the sharpest direct public rebuke of the Burmese leader by a US official.
“First, in denial about the abuse the Burmese military placed on the Rohingya, now justifying the imprisonment of the two Reuters reporters who reported on the ethnic cleansing. Unbelievable,” Haley wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
At another news briefing, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington disagreed with many of the comments Suu Kyi had made and added that the journalists should be released immediately.
“That verdict calls into question press freedom in Burma,” she said.
“The fact that those journalists were convicted despite testimony by police that they were ordered to frame those journalists, that in our view raises serious concerns about the judicial independence and the fair trial guarantees they are supposed to have in that country,” Nauert said.
“We continue to urge the government of Burma to take action immediately to correct this injustice.”