Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated that the jailing of two Reuters journalists had “nothing to do with freedom of expression at all”. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found in possession of police documents while investigating the massacre Rohingya Muslims.
The Rohingya have faced decades of political discrimination in Myanmar and are refused citizenship. It has been recorded that since last year at least 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar following the army’s launch of a brutal crackdown in retaliation attacks by a Rohingya militant group. Lone and Seo Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison on 3rd September for violating the state secrets act while investigating into the killing of Rohingya men by the military at the Inn Din village in Rahkine. The two Burmese journalists had been arrested for carrying official government documents, which they claimed had been given to them by police officers in a restaurant. This was seconded by a police witness in the trial. Following this, Burmese authorities investigated into the matter and arrested seven soldiers for their involvement in the killing of Rohingya Muslim men.
Suu Kyi stated retrospectively that the Rohingya situation could have been dealt with differently. Suu Kyi has been internationally criticized for not having publicly acknowledged the suffering of the Rohingyas or the atrocities meted out to them by the armed forces. Her claim was that the two reporters were not being punished for their journalism, but for not having adhered to the law.
Suu Kyi has often discussed the need to improve Myanmar’s judiciary and rule of law. A few reforms have been made under her government. However, the Burmese judicial system has been criticized as “corrupt, capricious, with disproportionately harsh sentences and judges subject to political and military influence”.
The Official Secrets Act, a relic of a colonial past has been condemned as ambiguous and unjust since it criminalizes the possession and reading of any document that the government believes is sensitive. In this regard, Suu Kyi’s stance on the matter has considerably tainted her image as a global human rights figure. Her failure to recognize the suffering of the Rohingya has sullied her international reputation and numerous honours have been withdrawn. However, she remains a popular figure in Myanmar where a vast majority of citizens view the Rohingya as intruders from Bangladesh.
In view of the aforementioned events, the treatment meted out to the press and Suu Kyi’s reaction to it, the Human Rights Watch responded to her statements saying that she “got it all wrong”. Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said that on account of how the judiciary in Myanmar operates in close collaboration with the government, the “trial of the Reuters journalists failed the test” of justice.