October 17, 2018

Event Coverage Highlight

OPC Attends Press Freedom Panel at UN

Left to right: OPC Governor Brian Byrd, Executive Director Patricia Kranz, former Governor Bill Collins and Past President Allan Dodds Frank.

On Sept. 28, the Committee to Protect Journalists hosted a panel discussion at the United Nations to highlight global press freedom challenges. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney called on Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to pardon two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were convicted on Sept. 3 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. Clooney is part of the legal team representing them.

The panel, titled “Press Behind Bars: Undermining Justice and Democracy” also featured discussions of press freedom concerns in Bangladesh, Egypt, and Kyrgyzstan, where journalists are imprisoned for their work and denied due process.

Other panelists were Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, and Stephen J. Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters.

The reporters had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Adler said in a statement that the prosecutors fabricated an implausible story about the journalists arrest, they they had “happened to be walking down the road one evening last December carrying top-secret documents in their hands, when they were stopped at a vehicle checkpoint for looking suspicious. According to this account, police were shocked to find the documents they were carrying, and in the spur-of-the-moment decided to arrest them for being spies.”

But Adler said officials knew about the story the two had been working on, and wanted to quash it.

“So police planted government documents on the journalists while other officers were lying in wait to arrest them,” he added. “The journalists were then prosecuted in a show trial in which a conviction was guaranteed.”

He also called on Suu Kyi to remember her roots as a political prisoner and pardon the journalists, saying “history will judge her on her response.”

The OPC was well represented at the event, with Executive Director Patrica Kranz, Past President Allan Dodds Frank, OPC Governor Brian Byrd, and former Governor Bill Collins all in attendance.

Dodds Frank asked the panel what press freedom advocates such as the OPC could do to pressure the current U.S. administration to call for Myanmar to release the Reuters journalists.

Clooney said all branches of the U.S. government have been supportive, including the White House, Congress and the State Department, with the Treasury Department and Department of Defense imposing sanctions.

“But of course all countries in the world could do more,” she added. “Remember, Myanmar was a success story a few years ago, and the idea is that releasing these journalists would actually set them back on the right track towards a society that respects the rule of law, a society that’s moving toward becoming a full democracy.”