Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has joined the legal team representing the two Reuters journalists who were arrested in December for reporting on anti-Rohingya violence, according to a statement released by her office on Thursday.
“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 said in the statement.
“The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.”
Reuter’s chief counsel Gail Gove told the news agency that Clooney’s addition strengthened the company’s international legal expertise and provided a welcome boost to the case.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, stand accused of possessing secret government papers and are being held under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.
While investigating the brutal murder of 10 Rohingya Muslim men at the hands of the Myanmar military and Buddhist villagers in Rakhine State, the pair say two police officers who they had never met before invited them to a restaurant in Yangon.
Over dinner, the police officers reportedly handed the journalists some rolled up papers, which allegedly contained detailed information about the military’s security operations in Rakhine State, and, almost immediately after doing so, took them into custody and accused them of illegally possessing confidential government documents.
The case presented against the two journalists has been mired by inconsistencies. During trial, one police officer said he had set fire to the notes he made during his meetings with the journalists without reason, while witness testimony has contradicted the police assertion that they had presented a warrant before confiscating Wa Lone’s laptop and hard drive during a search of his home after his arrest.
So far, the two journalists have been brought before the court 11 times during a drawn out preliminary trial that has still only heard from half of the 25 listed witnesses.
Lawyers will present their arguments on the motion to dismiss the case to the district court in northern Yangon on 4 April.