DURING THE 15 years she spent under house arrest, the cause of Aung San Suu Kyi was championed by Western journalists — including, in many instances, this page. She was seen to embody the struggle for freedom against the thuggish military dictatorship in Myanmar, also known as Burma. In 1991, she won the Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.”
Eight years after her release, and three years after her party won power in an election, Aung San Suu Kyi has given the Nobel judges and her other supporters reason to conclude that their belief in her was misplaced. On Thursday, after again minimizing the genocidal campaign carried out by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya minority, she added insult to injury by defending the jailing of two journalists who covered one atrocity. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who work for the Reuters news agency, are dedicated to the same truth-telling mission as the writers who once sneaked into Myanmar at personal risk to interview Aung San Suu Kyi or describe her unjust confinement. Yet now the two young reporters are sentenced to seven years imprisonment with the Nobel laureate’s blessing.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo reported on a particularly grisly massacre in the village of Inn Din, where 10 Rohingya men and boys were slaughtered and dumped into a mass grave. Authorities acknowledged that the killings took place — but they also set out to punish the two journalists. A police official invited them to a restaurant in Yangon and, as they left, handed them rolled-up documents. Before they could even look at the papers, they were arrested. They were later charged with violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
During an appearance in Hanoi, Aung San Suu Kyi underlined the secrecy act charge in claiming the two men were not “jailed because they were journalists.” She claimed that critics of the case had not “bothered to read” the court judgment. That begs the question of whether Aung San Suu Kyi troubled herself to become familiar with the testimony at the trial, during which one police official said he had been ordered by a superior to entrap one of the journalists — a confession that cost him a one-year prison sentence — and another admitted that there was nothing secret in the documents the journalists were handed.
When the campaign against the Rohingya began just over a year ago, Aung San Suu Kyi’s defenders pointed out that she had no control over the generals who ordered and carried it out — a number of whom have been cited by a U.N. investigative panel as candidates for war crimes prosecutions. Yet as the horrific facts of the ethnic cleansing have emerged — with more than 700,000 people driven across the border to Bangladesh by murders, mass rapes and the torching of scores of villages — Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly minimized and defended it. “The situation could have been handled better” was her sickening understatement on Thursday.
Now she is also justifying a blatant miscarriage of justice, though she has full authority to order the pardon of the journalists. Those who believed her when she claimed to stand for free expression, and advocated for her, no longer have reason to do so.