Myanmar’s embattled leader Aung San Suu Kyi has resorted to a stony silence in face of a growing global outcry over the imprisonment of two Reuters journalists in the South Asian country as the Nobel Prize winner has come under mounting criticism for her inaction on the case.
Journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December last year after reporting on the killings of 10 Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military in the northwestern state of Rakhine and on atrocities committed during the violent expulsion by the army troops of around 700,000 members of the persecuted minority last year.
Judge Ye Lwin convicted the journalists on Monday of being guilty for breaching a law on state secrets, the so-called Official Secrets Act, when they collected and obtained confidential documents, handed them each seven years behind bars.
The 73-year-old leader, who was herself subjected to house arrest for some 15 years, using foreign media to highlight her plight, has been widely-condemned by the United Nations and the European Union, as well as media and rights groups, for her silence on the case and verdict, which has posed the sternest test in recent years to the freedom of expression in the country.
“Criticizing the judicial system would be tantamount to contempt of court,” said Aung Hla Tun, a former Reuters journalist who now works for the government as deputy minister of information, on Tuesday, defending the Nobel Laureate’s reticence. “I don’t think she will do it,” he added.
Attorneys for the jailed pair will appeal the verdict while ultimately Myanmar’s president, a close ally of Suu Kyi, is capable of pardoning the inmates.
Additionally on Tuesday, Chit Su Win, Soe Oo´s wife, made an emotional appeal to Suu Kyi to free her husband for the sake of their young daughter. “I want my husband to come back. I cry when my daughter asks me why her father is not with us,” she said.
A UN report last week further put Suu Kyi under increasing pressure from the international community as it accused her of failing to use her moral authority to stem the violence last year against Rohingya Muslims, and called for the generals to be prosecuted for “genocide.”
In its final report , the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said the country’s army, led by Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, had carried out the “gravest crimes” against the Rohingyas with “genocidal intent.”
The UN investigators called for an international probe and prosecution of Myanmar’s army chief and five other top military commanders for their crimes.
However, the Myanmar leader, whose government is now facing mounting calls to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, chose to make no mention of the shocking report by the world body.
Last year, Myanmar’s armed forces, backed by Buddhist extremists, launched a state-sponsored crackdown against the Rohingya in Rakhine under the pretext of a number of attacks on military posts blamed on the minority group.
The crackdown, once described by the UN as the textbook example of "ethnic cleansing," forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they are living in overcrowded refugee camps in dire humanitarian conditions.
The new report further lashed out at Myanmar’s de facto leader for failing to give a proper response to the military’s brutalities, which have drawn widespread criticism from the UN and leading international organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees by 2020, followed up by an agreement with the UN last month.
Experts and Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh say a recent deal falls short of guaranteeing the Muslims’ safe return to Myanmar.
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