Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi defended the detention of two Reuters journalists despite international condemnation.
She said that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had broken the law and that their belief had "nothing to do with freedom of expression."
The two were convicted of possessing police documents while investigating the murder of Rohingya Muslims.
Ms. Suu Kyi also said that the army's response to the Rohingya could be handled differently in retrospect.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate – who is not the elected president of Myanmar, but is widely regarded as such – has been under intense pressure to comment on both the Rohingya crisis and, most recently, journalists.
This week, a UN human rights organization accused Myanmar of "campaigning against journalists."
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Ms. Suu Kyi broke her silence on Thursday when she attended an international economic conference in Vietnam.
In a speech, she said that the case upheld the rule of law and that many critics did not read the verdict.
The two had "every right to challenge the verdict and to point out why the verdict was wrong," she said.
Human Rights Watch responded to Ms. Suu Kyi's speech by saying that she had "done the wrong thing".
"She does not understand that genuine" rule of law "means that evidence presented in court, acts based on clearly defined and proportionate laws, and independence of the judiciary from influence by the government or security forces," Asia's Deputy Director Phil Robertson said.
"In all these points, the trial of Reuters journalists failed the test."
"Set up by the police"
The two journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail on September 3 for violating state secrecy when they investigated a massacre of Rohingya men by the military in a village called the Inn Din.
The two Burmese nationals were arrested when they were carrying official documents they had just received from police officers in a restaurant.
They said they were set up by the police, a claim backed by a police figure in the process.
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The authorities later initiated their own investigation of the Inn-Din murders, confirmed that the massacre had taken place, and promised to crack down on those who participated in it.
For decades, the Rohingya have been affected by discrimination in Myanmar, which they consider to be illegal and problematic migrants from Bangladesh.
The latest crisis erupted when a brutal military action was launched in response to a militant Rohingya group attacking several police outposts.
Since last year, at least 700,000 Rohingya have fled the violence of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
In August, a UN report said that in Myanmar, the highest military had to be investigated for genocide in the state of Rakhine and crimes against humanity in other areas.
The report describes the army's response – including murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement – as "in stark contrast to actual security threats".