APRIL 5, 2019
Amal Clooney speaks about media freedom at the UN general assembly in New York last year. Photograph: – Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt hires human rights lawyer for journalist safety campaign
LONDON, ENGLAND – Amal Clooney, the international human rights lawyer, has been appointed by Jeremy Hunt to act as the foreign secretary’s special envoy on media freedom as part of his campaign to highlight assaults and restrictions on journalists globally.
She will also chair a high-level panel of legal experts on the issue.
The UK and Canada are hosting a ministerial conference in London in July to draw attention to attacks on journalists. It has been claimed that 2018 was the deadliest year yet for journalists, with 99 killed, 348 detained and 80 taken hostage by non-state groups. The attacks last year started to spread to Europe, including Malta and eastern Europe.
The Foreign Office campaign has the potential to pitch British views of human rights and media freedom against the values of some of its closest political allies in the Gulf, Turkey and Myanmar, but Hunt believes the risk is worth taking as he seeks to ensure the British voice is heard after Brexit.
Clooney said on Friday: “Through my legal work defending journalists I have seen first hand the ways in which reporters are targeted and imprisoned in an effort to silence them and prevent a free media.”
Speaking at a joint event with Hunt on the sidelines of the G7 foreign ministers meeting in France, Clooney said her aim was to gather new legal initiatives to help ensure a more effective international response to attacks on media freedoms.
Clooney has represented the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were convicted last year under Myanmar’s colonial-era official secrets act and sentenced to seven years in prison. She has called on the government to grant them a pardon and appealed to Aung San Suu Kyi to grant them clemency.
The panel of legal experts will examine legal and policy initiatives that states can adopt, including offering advice to governments that want to strengthen legal mechanisms to improve media freedom, supporting the repeal of outdated and draconian laws, helping to ensure existing laws and obligations are enforced, and promoting best practice to protect a free media.
Proposals that will be examined by the independent panel, Clooney said, included reforms to national media laws that do not comply with international standards, including those in 71 countries that outlaw blasphemy.
The panel may also propose mechanisms that raise the cost of non-compliance with media freedom, including advising on sanctions targeting regimes that abuse journalists, the creation of a special body that investigates crimes against reporters, and restrictions on trials against reporters. Many of the laws that need to be reformed are British colonial laws, she said.
Clooney said: “It has never been more dangerous to report the news. Targeting journalists undermines democracy and impedes our ability to hold the powerful to account and it allows countless human rights abuses to take place in the dark. Those with a pen in their hand should not feel a noose round their neck”.
She singled out India and Brazil as two large democratic countries where journalists have been targeted and pointed to the brutal murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
Hunt, who was the culture secretary during the Leveson inquiry into media intrusion and phone hacking, said: “The media has a crucial role to play in holding the powerful to account. There is no escaping the fact that draconian and outdated laws around the world are being used to restrict the ability of the media to report the truth. Violence against journalists has reached alarming levels globally and we cannot turn a blind eye.”