Amal Clooney: Pardon Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney answers a question during a conference called "Press Behind Bars: Undermining Justice and Democracy," at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Left is Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and right center is Steven J. Adler, President and Editor-in-Chief of Reuters. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Human Rights attorney Amal Clooney, who is representing two journalists from Reuters news agency sentenced to hard labor after they uncovered a military massacre, urged Myanmar leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday to immediately pardon the reporters and reverse a miscarriage of justice.

Clooney, speaking at a press freedom event at the United Nations, sought to link the former iconic status of Suu Kyi as a human rights champion to the request for the release of Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, and Wa Lone, 32.

Clooney said the reporters were arrested in an attempt by Myanmar to keep Reuters from publishing a story on the extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men and boys. She noted that Suu Kyi had once “allowed young people to hope for a free Myanmar that respected the rule of law.”

“She knows that mass murder is not a state secret and that exposing it doesn’t turn a journalist into a spy,” Clooney said of Suu Kyi. “She has said that one political prisoner is one too many, and so we’re hopeful that since these are the principles that she herself has espoused, she will step in and try to correct an injustice in this case.”

About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh amid a brutal military campaign in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Myanmar’s army is accused of mass rape, killings and setting fire to thousands of homes in the aftermath of an August 2017 attack by Rohingya militants on security outposts.

“They should be worrying about whether or not they’re going to win the Pulitzer prize, not whether they can get out of prison any time before 2024,” Clooney said of the reporters. She said their families have asked the government for the pardon, which would have to be granted by the country’s president in consultation with Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi has rejected criticism over the show-trial conviction earlier this month. “The case has been held in open court,” Suu Kyi said. “If anyone feels there has been a miscarriage of justice, I would like them to point it out.”

An email seeking comment from Myanmar’s mission to the U.N. wasn’t immediately answered.

Stephen Adler, the president and editor-in-chief of Reuters, said his reporters’ arrest “was clearly aimed at unmasking Reuters sources and keeping us from publishing the account of the massacre.” He called the attack on the reporters “a chilling warning” to other journalists worldwide.

“We know about the massacre because they did what good reporters do,” Adler said. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo went with open minds and left with facts. Except they didn’t really get to leave, did they? Only the facts did. In an astonishing miscarriage of justice, our reporters were set up and arrested.”

Rohingya Muslims have long been treated as outsiders in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights. Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to ensure fair treatment of the Rohingya

The discussion Friday was arranged by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which also highlighted the repression and abuse of reporters in countries including Bangladesh, Egypt and Kyrgyzstan.

Joel Simon, executive director of the committee, said few countries have been held to account for oppressive practices, in part because the United Nations and its member states “follow diplomatic protocol and refuse to name names.”

“The General Assembly must be more than just a parade of speeches,” he said. A failure to do more by the U.N. and its members allows the jailing of journalists, which “is successfully censoring coverage of key global issues and violating our collective right to seek and receive information.”

The Reuters case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under Suu Kyi’s civilian government, which took power in 2016. The country had been under military and military-backed rule for more than five decades.

Clooney said 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, but today 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,” Clooney said. “History will judge her on her response.”

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