Amal Clooney steps in to defend Burmese journalists on trial
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Amal Clooney steps in to defend Burmese journalists on trial

INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will be joining the legal team of the two Burmese reporters on trial in the Southeast Asian country, her office said on Thursday.

Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers specialising in international law and human rights, has confirmed that she will serve as counsel to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters reporters facing charges for allegedly possessing classified government papers

The office in a statement said Clooney has been instructed jointly by Reuters and the two defendants in the case.

SEE ALSO: 100 days locked up: Reuters reporters appear in Burma court for 11th time 

The two on trial are investigative reporters who were arrested last December following their reports of a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Rakhine State state during an army crackdown that began in August, which has sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

They are accused of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era statute which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, and are currently detained in a Yangon prison during the criminal trial.

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Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone is escorted by police after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar March 7, 2018. Source: Reuters/Stringer

“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,” Clooney, who is married to actor George Clooney, said.

“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 (Burma’s) commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.”

Gail Gove, Chief Counsel of Reuters, 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.”

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Burma’s civilian government, declined to comment.

SEE ALSO: Mounting calls for Burma to release jailed Reuters journalists

Government officials have previously denied the arrests represent an attack on press freedom, which rights advocates say is under growing threat in the Southeast Asian country.

Burma’s ambassador to the United Nations, Hau Do Suan, said last month that the Reuters journalists were not arrested for reporting a story, but were accused of “illegally possessing confidential government documents”.

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Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone is escorted by police during a break at a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar February 1, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

The pair have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some rolled up papers at a restaurant in northern Yangon by two policemen they had not met before, having been invited to meet the officers for dinner.

The district court in northern Yangon will hear arguments from prosecutors and defence lawyers on the motion to dismiss the case on April 4.