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Suu Kyi defends jailing of Reuters journalists

Myanmar leader rebuts criticism and suggests 'no miscarriage of justice'

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi says Reuters journalists were jailed for breaking the Official Secrets Act.     © Reuters

YANGON -- Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday defended a guilty verdict dealt to two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the Rohingya crisis when they were arrested, in a case that had sparked international criticism for violating the freedom of the press.

"They were not jailed because they were journalists, they were jailed because... the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act," the state counselor said.

"The case has been held in open court," Suu Kyi added. "If anyone feels there has been a miscarriage of justice, I would like them to point it out."

Suu Kyi's comments, made in a discussion session held as part of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) ongoing in Hanoi, were her first response after the first round of the journalists' trials closed on Sept. 3.

These comments indicate that a presidential pardon for the journalists is unlikely, a hope their family members and attorneys had been clinging on to.

Criticism from the international community is mounting against the Myanmar government and the military's persecution of Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority in the country. Suu Kyi has also come under the spotlight for her failure to comment on the case until now.

Although she said the situation "could have been handled better" on Thursday, Suu Kyi defended the security forces, pointing out that the Rohingya Muslims were not the only ones to suffer in clashes with the military in August 2017.

"We believe, for the sake of long-term stability and security, we have to be fair to all sides," she said. "We cannot chose and pick whom to be protected by the rule of law." Rohingya militants allegedly attacked police then, which led to a brutal army backlash on the community and a subsequent exodus of the population across the border into Bangladesh. The exiled Rohingyas are living in poor conditions in a large camp near the border.

Under Myanmar's constitution, 25% of parliamentary seats are allocated to the military. "We stated that 25% unelected parliamentarians was not in line with the democratic values, and this has to be changed."

Yet, she was cautious in avoiding any confrontation with the military.

In the parliament debate in 2014 on amending the constitution, Suu Kyi said "We also made the point that, in the interest of national reconciliation and stability, we could negotiate this step-by-step.

"We have tried to do everything within the framework of the law because we believe that rule of law is absolutely essential for the stability of our country."

Amending the constitution requires a 75% majority in parliament, which implies that some military consent would be required.

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