Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has joined the legal team representing two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar, lending both counsel and an international spotlight to a case that has widely been decried as an attack on free press.
The two reporters, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, have now spent more than 100 days behind bars, shackled in a notorious prison emblematic of oppression during Myanmar’s military junta era. The pair are on trial for allegedly possessing secret government papers.
They were investigating the murders of 10 Muslim Rohingya men found in a mass grave following military violence the U.N. has called ethnic cleansing. If convicted, the two journalists face up to 14 years in prison under the colonial-era Officials Secrets Act.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being prosecuted simply because they reported the news,” Clooney said in a statement released by her office, Doughty Street Chambers. “I have reviewed the case file and it is clear beyond doubt that the two journalists are innocent and should be released immediately. The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.”
The Reuters journalists were arrested in Yangon on Dec. 12 almost immediately after they were handed documents by police who had invited them to dinner, according to the defense lawyers.
Advocates have dubbed the case “farcical” and believe the pair may have been entrapped.
Inconsistencies have riddled the court hearings, with police officials claiming to be unable to answer questions about the arrest because they burned their notes. The defense team has requested the case be dismissed on lack of evidence.
The Yangon court will hear arguments on the motion to dismiss on April 4.
Clooney, who worked at the Hague before joining the London bar, has previously taken on several, high-profile international cases, including representing Yazidi victims of genocide, and defending Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova against politically motivated prosecution.