Suu Kyi tries to save face | The Daily Star
02:03 AM, May 10, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:04 AM, May 10, 2019

Suu Kyi tries to save face

Say observers after relentless diplomatic pressure, global outrage forced her govt to release two Reuters journos

♦ Myanmar is due to go to polls next year. So, political timing was a factor for the release.

♦ The damage already done to the country’s reputation were costly to govt: analyst

After relentless diplomatic pressure and global outrage, fallen democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi finally decided that a pardon for two Myanmar journalists jailed for reporting on a Rohingya massacre was the only way to resolve an issue that has dogged her government for nearly 18 months.

Observers say the unexpected release of the two Reuters reporters was a political decision timed to save face for the country’s civilian leader, after a vigorous international campaign that saw Amal Clooney join their legal team, Time magazine put the pair on their cover, and journalism awards and honours pile up -- including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

A presidential pardon freed Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, from prison on Tuesday to a media frenzy and messages of congratulations from the White House to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The pair spent more than 500 days behind bars under colonial-era state secrets convictions after probing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims during a military crackdown.

Global attention on the reporters and the damage already done to the country’s reputation were “potentially costly” to the government, said independent analyst Richard Horsey.

Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi provoked outcry when she refused to intervene, insisting “rule of law” must be followed.

The abrupt decision to release the pair this week was made because Myanmar’s leaders had “taken into consideration the long-term interest of (the) country”, said government spokesman Zaw Htay. Political timing was also a factor, observers say.

Myanmar is due to go to the polls next year, retired Thai diplomat Kobsak Chutikul said. Behind the international condemnation, backroom diplomacy appears to have played a key role in convincing Suu Kyi to pardon the reporters. One man waiting among the crowds outside the gates of Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison was British health expert Lord Ara Darzi.

A close confidant of Suu Kyi, he has regularly visited the country over the past two years in an advisory role on a Rakhine state commission.

“From what I hear, he finally found the opportunity to convince Suu Kyi this was an albatross hanging round their necks,” said Kobsak, who served alongside Darzi on another Myanmar government commission.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed in third amnesty in just over a week that saw a total of 23,000 prisoners released.

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