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Aung San Suu Kyi defends jailing of journalists in Myanmar: 'They have every right to appeal'

Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MUMBAI, India -- Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday defended the imprisonment of two Reuters journalists who were investigating military attacks against Rohingya Muslims, saying the men were not punished for their reporting but because they broke the law.

"If we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgment was wrong, if they consider it wrong," Suu Kyi told an audience at a World Economic Forum gathering in Vietnam.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner broke her silence in the closely watched case, which world leaders and human rights groups have described as an assault on freedom of expression and a further sign of declining democratic practices in a country emerging from a half-century of military rule.

Suu Kyi's comments drew harsh criticism from human rights groups that argue she has been complicit in the military's bloody, scorched-earth operations against the Rohingya people, more than 700,000 of whom have fled across the border into Bangladesh since August 2017.

The former democratic icon -- who led the struggle against military rule in the country formerly known as Burma -- has declined to criticize the army, which retains immense constitutional powers despite her party winning national elections in 2015.

Asked about the violence against the Rohingya, which some critics have compared to a genocide, Suu Kyi said that "the situation could have been handled better," but said the military had acted "for the sake of long-term stability and security."

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The reporters with the Reuters international news agency -- Myanmar nationals Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo -- were reporting on an alleged massacre by Myanmar security forces in western Myanmar's Rakhine state last year. The two found evidence that Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist villagers killed 10 Rohingya men execution-style and buried them in a mass grave in the village of Inn Din.

The journalists say they were set up by police officers who arranged a meeting to hand over official documents, then arrested them for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

The journalists pleaded not guilty but were convicted and sentenced last week to seven years in jail. Their lawyers have said they will appeal the judgment.

The comments by Suu Kyi, who holds the position of state counselor, indicated that she was unlikely to push for the reporters to be pardoned by Myanmar President Win Myint, a close ally.

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