Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are two journalists with Reuters, and I apologize for what I’m sure is my terrible pronunciation of their names, but I think that’s the least of their problems at the movement.
As I talk to you, they are in a Burmese prison. Being in prison isn’t fun anywhere, but I think Burma is one of the places where it’s most difficult. Being a journalist in Burma is a challenging job, even outside prison.
They were sent to prison for supposedly breaking Burma’s Official Secrets Act, they both got seven-year sentences earlier this month. Also in prison is a Burmese police captain who testified in court that the two journalists had been framed. He said in court that his senior officer ordered the entrapment of the two journalists, who were pursuing a story about the summary executions of Rohingya people.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group who live in mostly-Buddhist Burma, but the Burmese authorities say are illegal immigrants, despite having lived there since long before Burma got its independence from Britain.
The Burmese military has been running a violent campaign against the Rohingya, burning villages, forcing them to flee and killing anyone who doesn’t. In dreadful circumstances, more than half of them have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, itself desperately poor.
There are lots of journalists who are imprisoned or murdered for their work around the world. Worse still, many of these abuses go unremarked. There are people who speak out for human rights, but there are only so many abuses that can be highlighted.
One abuse that was highlighted was that of the long imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi. She was held under house arrest for more than 15 years, during which time she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigning to bring democracy to Burma. Time Magazine called her one of the ‘Children of Gandhi’ and said she was his spiritual heir to the cause of non-violence. Her face looked out from a million Amnesty International posters, who campaigned for her release.
And she succeeded, to a degree. She is now the prime minister of Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi was criticized by the world community for inaction and silence over the persecution of the Rohingya. Excuses were made for her by people who couldn’t believe that she would condone such ethnic cleansing. It’s true that she only tentatively holds on to power, and that the military, the former rulers of Burma, can often act independent of her will.
But when challenged about the framing of the two journalists who told a story of mass murder, she is reported to have flown into a rage, called the journalists traitors and defended their imprisonment.
Suu Kyi has gone from being the hero in the fight for democracy to the villain. Really, here are no heroes.