Within minutes of her arrival at the United Nations, Amal Clooney headlines were appearing online.
Vogue was comparing a paparazzi photo of her caped shift dress to an outfit of Meghan Markle’s, managing to squeeze the new royal’s name in the same line of SEO; PopSugar made sure to write that Clooney’s outfit “elongated her frame;” The Daily Mail said she was stepping out to “an event” at the U.N. (because it’s so glamorous) before breaking down her look. Although Clooney, a relatively chic career lawyer, has admitted the increased profile that comes with an incredibly famous husband can have a halo effect on the profile of her human rights work, that halo seems to have been somewhat dimmed for this outing.
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But while these outlets focused on the minutiae of Clooney’s appearance (the shoes, bag and coat all matched! A black manicure!) she fixated on her cause. The “event” at the U.N. was in reality a panel to discuss the increased incarceration of journalists worldwide, including two Reuters reporters she currently represents, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
Lone and Soe Oo were set up, jailed and convicted over their investigation into the mass murder of male Rohingya refugees by state security forces in Myanmar. The country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi (long lauded in the West for bringing democracy to Myanmar after years as a political prisoner but recently criticized for her lack of action on the Rohingya genocide) has defended the arrest and conviction of the journalists as being just and related to their breach of a state secrets law. But Clooney, along with Stephen Adler, editor in chief of Reuters, and Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, contended the case is wholly meritless.
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During remarks in the U.N. Economic and Social Council chamber, Clooney, Adler and Simon all pointed out the absurdity of the allegations against Lone and Soe Oo, namely that they happened to be arrested in December for looking “suspicious” immediately after a meeting called by police officials, where they were handed state documents they were told not to read until later, and those same documents were allegedly enough to have them be tried as spies.
“It was simply a coincidence, we are told, that the journalists were working on a story about the execution of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state, where the U.N. says Myanmar’s security forces are committing the gravest crimes under international law,” Clooney said, alluding to a recent U.N. report calling for Myanmar to be investigated for genocide of Rohingya, an ethnic and religious minority in their majority Buddhist country. “Of course what really happened is that officials knew about the story and did not want it to come out. So police planted government documents on the journalists while other officers were lying in wait to arrest them. The journalists were then prosecuted in a show trial in which a conviction was guaranteed.”
Clooney went on to call out Suu Kyi multiple times, saying her life story “allowed young people to hope for a free Myanmar that respected the rule of law” and that she alone now holds the power to release Lone and Soe Oo through a pardon.
Adler, whose outlet published Lone and Soe Oo’s story after their arrest, added plainly that, “A brigadier general — who was angry that members of his command had talked to Wa Lone — was behind the plan” to arrest the men. It was also pointed out that before and during the trial, prosecutors had offered to drop the charges if Reuters agreed to not publish the story. That didn’t happen and Lone and Soe Oo were sentenced in September to seven years in prison.
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Adler said since the case, Rakhine State, where the killings in the Reuters report took place, a report the local government has admitted to be true, has become even more restricted for journalists. But, he noted, Lone and Soe Oo are just two of the nearly 300 journalists currently being detained worldwide, the vast majority in Turkey, China and Egypt, according to research by the CPJ.
“The community of nations cannot condone this,” Adler said “We must stand for the rule of law, for the ideal and the practice of democracy. And those cannot flourish without the free flow of information.”
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