Suu Kyi tries to save face with Myanmar reporters’ release

Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi — already seen as a pariah by many for perceived complicity in the Rohingya’s plight — provoked outcry when she refused to intervene. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 May 2019

Suu Kyi tries to save face with Myanmar reporters’ release

  • 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

YANGON: 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 honors 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 — already seen as a pariah by many for perceived complicity in the Rohingya’s plight — 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.
Retired Thai diplomat Kobsak Chutikul, who has worked in an advisory capacity to Suu Kyi’s government, told AFP that senior officials had all known a pardon must be granted at some point but “nobody felt they could bring this up with her.”
Political timing was also a factor, observers say.
Myanmar is due to go to the polls next year and this was a chance to “get it out of the way” beforehand rather than risk overshadowing the vote, Kobsak 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, whose name barely came up during regular media coverage of the saga.
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.
But he has known the leaders for years, and hosted her in London after her release from house arrest.
“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.
The discussion would have taken place “behind the scenes, in quiet conversations in her house,” he added.
Darzi later hinted about his role to reporters at a press conference following the journalists’ release.
“The lesson is simple: dialogue works even in the most difficult of circumstances,” he said.
Presidential pardons are traditionally granted around the Myanmar new year in April.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed in the third amnesty in just over a week that saw a total of 23,000 prisoners released.
The pair were handed a seven-year jail sentence last September, upheld first by Yangon’s High Court and then the country’s Supreme Court last month.
Reuters maintained the duo were imprisoned in retaliation for their expose, while legal experts argued the case was riddled with irregularities.
With the judicial process having run its course all the way to Myanmar’s top court, Suu Kyi “may have been convinced the twisted passage of justice had been served,” Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson said, calling her change of heart a “political calculation.”
Despite the release, observers warn against reading too much into prospects for greater press freedom in the beleaguered democracy, which began a troubled transition from military rule in 2010.
“The pardon will not change the conditions that journalists (in Myanmar) are facing,” said activist Cheery Zahau.


Arab News Japanese edition to launch in October

Updated 16 September 2019

Arab News Japanese edition to launch in October

  • Digital news service to be available in English and Japanese
  • Launch to coincide with Emperor enthronement ceremony

TOKYO: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English language daily, is to launch a Japanese-language online edition as part of its ongoing global expansion.

The international edition will be the second under the Arab News brand, following the highly successful launch of the Pakistani edition. 

As a symbol of the cordial business, trading and cultural relations between the Kingdom and Japan, arabnews.jp will commence coverage to coincide with the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito next month. It will be a 24-hour rolling news website comprising original material generated in Tokyo and translations of Arab News’ award-winning English content.

Faisal J. Abbas, Arab News editor-in-chief, announced the project at the G1 Global conference in Tokyo on Monday, September 16.

The Japanese edition will be the second under the Arab News brand.

He said: ““As part of our more digital, more global direction; we are delighted to announce the launch of Arab News Japan. The news site will be available in both English and Japanese, with a content mix that blends original reporting from both the Middle East and Japan as well as a translated feed of some of our most important news and views. 

“We are also honored to coincide our launch with our coverage of the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. We hope that our new service arabnews.jp helps bring a better mutual understanding of both our rich cultures and become a trusted communication channel where our friends in japan can rely on us for credible information and insightful analysis,” he added.

Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners. A major part of Japan’s energy imports come from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom imports manufactured goods and electronic equipment from Japan, and is a significant destination for Japanese financial investment.

Saudi Arabia officials are working with their Japanese counterparts on the formal handover for the G20 leaders’ summit, which will take place in the Kingdom next year, following the highly success event held in Osaka, Japan, in June.

At that event, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe that Japan was a country dear to the hearts of all Saudis. “We will work together to prepare for the G20 summit 2020 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Crown Prince said.

The prime minister praised the Kingdom’s progress in accordance with the Vision 2030 strategy and pointed to the keenness of the government of Japan and its readiness through public and private sectors to make further efforts and cooperation with the Kingdom.

Arab News is part of the regional publishing group Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). It has been the English newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia and the region for over 40 years.