In a tense courtroom packed with journalists, campaigners, diplomats and family members, two Burmese journalists working for Reuters news agency were sentenced to seven years in prison for breaching a colonial-era secrecy law.

Few had expected mercy. But none thought the punishment would be so harsh.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested nine months ago while investigating the killing of Rohingya men whose bodies were found in a mass grave in Rakhine, a state in western Myanmar where, according to a recent U.N. report, the Burmese army had been committing atrocities with possible genocidal intent.

The two journalists had been handed official documents by police over dinner in a restaurant. When the meal ended, other police officers were waiting to arrest them outside.

The trial was a farce. One of the officers who had arrested them could not produce the notes that he had taken that evening, as he had burned them. A police captain acknowledged that the whole thing was a setup and was sent to prison.

'Not friendly' to media

In any case, it turned out that the state secrets contained in the documents had been publicly available all along. The army also acknowledged that the massacre the journalists were looking into did, in fact, happen.

During her long fight against the military junta before she took power in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly said that her country needed the rule of law. "Unless justice is done and seen to be done, we cannot reform," she told foreign admirers.

In government, she has continued to express such sentiments but has done little to advance the cause.

It was not her fault that Myanmar's courts were left dysfunctional and judges in hock to the generals after five decades of dictatorship. But a report issued last year by Justice Base, a British NGO, shows that the judiciary has not improved in recent years.

Short of revamping the system, she could at least have asserted her still-weighty moral authority in court cases such as those involving the journalists. During the reporters' trial, she hid behind the prosecution's flimsy arguments.

She is said in private to have called the journalists "traitors." Once an ally of the independent press, she now deems it a nuisance. Local journalists lament that they have no access to her and that she communicates mainly through the propaganda machine created by the army. Her deputy information minister admits that the laws are "not friendly" to the media.

Turning a blind eye

That is an understatement. More journalists have faced criminal charges under the new government than under the previous one led by generals in civilian clothes, according to free-speech activists. The foreign media are regarded with suspicion, since Suu Kyi appears to believe the canard that there is a global conspiracy against Myanmar. Foreign correspondents find it increasingly hard to get visas.

With the help of Suu Kyi's blind eye toward them, the armed forces act with impunity. The constitution she inherited says the army may control its own affairs. She has done nothing to expose its abuses against civilians. Her response to the crisis in Rakhine, where the army's brutality has forced more than 720,000 Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, has been to cover up for the generals.

The latest committee of inquiry created by her government to placate foreigners says its role is not to apportion blame. On their way last week to Rakhine for their first field trip, its members lauded the "openness" of the army chief.

"When the military announces it will cooperate with a government-orchestrated investigation, you know it's a bright shining sham," said David Scott Mathieson, an observer.