Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the jailing of two Reuters journalists, despite international condemnation.
She said Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had broken the law and their conviction had “nothing to do with freedom of expression at all.”
The two were sentenced for possession of police documents while investigating the killing of Rohingya Muslims.
Ms Suu Kyi also said the army crackdown against the Rohingya could in hindsight have been handled differently.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is not Myanmar’s elected president but is almost universally viewed as such had been under intense pressure to comment on both the Rohingya crisis and more recently the journalists.
This week, a UN rights body accused Myanmar of “waging a campaign against journalists”.
Ms Suu Kyi broke her silence on the issue on Thursday while attending an international economics conference in Vietnam.
Rule of law
In a speech, she said “the case upheld the rule of law and suggested that many critics had not actually read the verdict.’’
The two had “every right to appeal the judgement and to point out why the judgement was wrong,” she said.
Human Rights Watch responded to Ms Suu Kyi’s speech by saying that she “got it all wrong”.
“She fails to understand that real ‘rule of law’ means respect for evidence presented in court, actions brought based on clearly defined and proportionate laws, and independence of the judiciary from influence by the government or security forces,” Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said.
Robertson said;“On all these counts, the trial of the Reuters journalists failed the test.”
The two journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on 3 September for violating the state secrets act while investigating a massacre of Rohingya men by the military at a village called Inn Din.
The two Myanmar nationals had been arrested while carrying official documents which had just been given to them by police officers in a restaurant.
Set up by police
They said they were set up by police, a claim backed by a police witness in the trial.
Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre took place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.
The Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination in Myanmar, which considers them to be illegal and problematic migrants from Bangladesh.
The latest crisis erupted when a brutal military crackdown was launched in response to a Rohingya militant group attacking several police posts.
Since last year, at least 700,000 Rohingya have fled violence Myanmar, also known as Burma.
In August, a UN report said top military figures in Myanmar must be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state and crimes against humanity in other areas.
The report describes the army’s response including murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement, as grossly disproportionate to actual security threats.