By Michelle Nichols
UNITEDNATIONS (Reuters) – The families of two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar have asked for a pardon from the country’s president, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney told a press freedom event at the United Nations on Friday as she pressed Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to agree to the request.
“The president can grant a pardon anytime after a conviction. He does so following a consultation with Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Clooney, who is a member of the legal team representing Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28.
“The journalists’ families have already submitted a pardon request,” Clooney said. “This case began with authorization from the government at the highest level, all the way up to the president’s office. And the government can, if it wants to, end it today.”
The Myanmar mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The reporters were convicted on Sept. 3 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case seen as a test of democratic freedoms in Myanmar. The reporters, who pleaded not guilty and have been detained since December last year, were sentenced to seven years in prison.
They had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during an army crackdown that began in August last year. The operation sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
A U.N mandated fact-finding mission said Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for top generals to be prosecuted. Myanmar rejected the findings.
Suu Kyi said at a forum in Vietnam this month that the case had nothing to do with freedom of expression. She said the reporters had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists.”
“Aung San 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 in which Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo now sleep,” said Clooney, who was speaking for the first time about the case.
Clooney said Suu Kyi held “the key to their liberty” and “the key to a more democratic and prosperous Myanmar. History will judge her response.”
The U.N. event hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also focussed on the cases of imprisoned journalists in Egypt, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh.
The CPJ said a record 262 journalists were jailed worldwide in 2017, with Turkey, China, and Egypt responsible for imprisoning 134 of those journalists.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this month called on the Myanmar government to pardon and release the Reuters journalists as soon as possible.
Representatives for the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Lebanon and other countries attended the event on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)