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Suu Kyi defends jail for Reuters scribes 

Hanoi, September 13

Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday that the jailing of two Reuters journalists had nothing to do with freedom of expression and they can appeal against their seven-year sentences.

Suu Kyi, in her first public comment on the case since the two were convicted, referred to the colonial-era law under which they were charged.

“They were not jailed because they were journalists, they were jailed because … the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said at a conference of the World Economic Forum in Hanoi. She made her comments in response to a question from a forum moderator who asked whether she felt comfortable about the reporters being jailed. 

However, the country’s de facto leader acknowledged that the brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority — which the United Nations has cast as “genocide” — could have been “handled better”, but insisted the two reporters had been treated fairly.

The journalists, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted on official secrets charges on Monday last week.

The two reporters, who had pleaded not guilty, were investigating the killing of 10 villagers from the Muslim Rohingya minority by the Myanmar security forces at the time of their arrest. The military later acknowledged the killings and said it punished several soldiers.

The United Nations, human rights and press freedom groups and various governments criticised the convictions. US Vice President Mike Pence called for their release.

But Suu Kyi questioned whether people were aware of the details of the case. “I wonder whether very many people have actually read the summary of the judgment which had nothing to do with freedom of expression at all, it had to do with an Official Secrets Act,” she said.

Reuters, in response to Suu Kyi’s comments, said in a statement: “We continue to believe that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not violate Myanmar’s espionage law, and at no point in time were they engaged in activity to hurt their country.” 

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