Amal Clooney participates in the Press Behind Bars: Undermining Justice and Democracy event during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2018. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)
Prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney appealed to Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday over a pardon for two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar, saying the Nobel laureate held the key to their release.
The two fathers, accused of breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims, were jailed for seven years earlier this month, fueling international outrage.
Clooney said the journalists’ families had already submitted a request for their pardon, adding that the president can grant a pardon following consultation with Suu Kyi.
“The government can, if it wants to, end it today,” the British-Lebanese lawyer told an event dedicated to press freedom on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
She held de facto leader Suu Kyi to her stated priority of releasing prisoners of conscience and of having spoken of the need for a free press if the country is to transition to a full democracy.
“She knows that mass murder is not a state secret and that exposing it doesn’t turn a journalist into a spy,” Clooney said.
Earlier this month, Suu Kyi defended the jailing of Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, hitting back at global criticism of a trial widely seen as an attempt to muzzle the free press.
“She holds the key, the key to their liberty, the key to reuniting them with their young children, the key to freedom of the press.
“The key to truth and accountability, and the key to a more democratic and prosperous Myanmar,” Clooney said. “History will judge her on her response.”
Clooney recalled that when she was a student at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, the Nobel peace laureate, who studied at the same college 30 years earlier, had been “a hero to me.”
“Aung Sang Suu Kyi knows better than anyone what it is like to be a political prisoner in Myanmar. She has slept in a cell at the prison where Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo now sleep,” she said.
Suu Kyi, once garlanded as a global rights champion, has come under intense pressure to use her moral authority inside Myanmar to press for a presidential pardon for the reporters.
Myanmar rejects ICC
The case, which sparked an international outcry, was seen as an attempt to muzzle reporting on last year’s crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.
Army-led “clearance operations” drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities — rape, murder and arson — by Myanmar police and troops.
The reporters say they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in a Rakhine village last year.
Clooney, wife of Hollywood A-lister George Clooney, announced in March that she would join the legal team representing the journalists.
Myanmar government minister Kyaw Tint Swe told the General Assembly that his government “resolutely rejected” a decision by the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against the Rohingya.
The ICC ruled that the investigation could go ahead because Bangladesh is a signatory of the Rome statute that created the court. Myanmar has not signed the statute.
“Let me make it clear: while the government is unable to accept this legally dubious intervention by the ICC, we are fully committed to ensuring accountability where there is concrete evidence of human rights violations committed in Rakhine state,” said the minister.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the fate of the Rohingya was a matter to be addressed by Myanmar and Bangladesh, suggesting that the United Nations should not intervene.
China, a supporter of Myanmar’s former ruling junta, has shielded the government in Naypyidaw from sanctions or other action by the UN Security Council.