Lebanese-British human rights lawyer Amal Clooney confirmed on Thursday that she will represent Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are on being held in a Yangon prison while they are on trial for allegedly mishandling state secrets.
The two reporters were arrested in December and charged with violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act by allegedly attempting “to send important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine State to foreign agencies abroad.” They each face a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are believed to have been targeted for attempting to uncover a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din in Sept. 2017 at the hands of Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers. Their findings were part of a groundbreaking report on the massacre, which Reuters published in February.
The reporters’ arrest has galvanized global opinion against Myanmar’s military and justice system. Clooney, who is married to Hollywood actor George Clooney and is also a well-respected public figure in her own right, is expected to further focus international attention on the case.
However, it is far from clear that this heightened scrutiny will affect the outcome of the case.
Clooney has said about her decision to take on the case: “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being prosecuted simply because they reported the news. I have reviewed the case file and it is clear beyond doubt that the two journalists are innocent and should be released immediately. Yet they have been denied bail and face 14 years in prison. The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.”
Reuters chief counsel Gail Gove has said: “We will pursue all avenues to secure our reporters’ release. Retaining Ms. Clooney greatly strengthens our international legal expertise and allows us to broaden those efforts.”
Former US president Bill Clinton and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres are among the many world leaders who have called for the two reporters’ release.
Former US diplomat Bill Richardson, once a friend and advisor to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, quit the Myanmar leader’s advisory panel on the Rohingya crisis in January after she angrily rebuffed his attempts to discuss the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.