Celebrated British-Lebanese human rights attorney Amal Clooney, wife of Academy Award-winning actor and film director George Clooney, gave her first American network television interview to Cynthia McFadden of NBC News this week. She has also taped an interview with Chuck Todd that will air in full on Meet the Press this Sunday morning, January 17. This confab with the NBC News family immediately follows Amal Clooney’s recent trip to Capitol Hill and the White House to try to convince legislators and members of President Obama’s administration to become involved in the current leadership crisis in the Maldives, and to respond to human rights abuses perpetrated by its current government. Amal Clooney is representing Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, in an appeals case after the democratically elected president was forced out of office in 2012 and was jailed in March 2015 on a terrorism charge — and in a quick trial — that the United Nations considered deeply troubling and that Clooney called “a sham.”
President Nasheed, who was not permitted to call any witnesses during his trial, is currently serving a 13-year jail sentence and was initially overthrown for ordering the arrest of a judge. Amal Clooney met with him and joined the case in September 2015, following about four months of protests that resulted in arrests for hundreds of members of Nasheed’s political party. Clooney says that she walked away from her meetings in Washington this week with confirmation that a resolution will be introduced in Congress to impose moderate sanctions on the current government of the Maldives, led by President Abdulla Yameen — who is notably the half-brother of a previous president and is a man whom Clooney claims would have no free rivals if another democratic election were to be held in the island nation. Amal Clooney also told NBC News that her team stopped short of suggesting a tourism ban (likely to prevent the sanctions from harming average citizens in the Maldives) but she would like tourists to know of the human rights abuses occurring in the popular vacation spot.
“I think it’s important for tourists to know the facts of what’s happening in the Maldives. I don’t think people realize that there’s a flogging taking place a kilometer away when they’re sunbathing in their resort.”
Amal Clooney has worked on many high-profile human rights cases during her 15-year career, and while a visit to Washington D.C. to make her case to the most powerful lawmakers in the world certainly falls in line with that, it’s no secret that her September 2014 marriage to world-famous actor George Clooney has thrown her into the spotlight and made it far more likely that she would be able to make that same case in an interview airing on TODAY. When Cynthia McFadden asked her to comment publicly for the first time on her newfound fame, Clooney was quick to acknowledge the widespread interest and chose to focus on the positive, stating, “[…] I’m still doing the same job that I used to do before. If there’s more attention paid, for whatever reason, to that, then I think that’s good.” Clooney also made the point that she believes that celebrity comes with responsibility, and that she feels she’s living up to it by continuing her admirable work.
With this in mind, it’s worth noting that the international media faced a bit of a quandary in terms of how to cover President Nasheed’s appeal when it became clear that Amal Clooney, the most famous member of his international legal team, was facing a challenge on the opposing side from Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK prime minister Tony Blair (Cherie is a celebrated attorney in her own right, and a former part-time judge). Blair told the press in September 2015 that Amal Clooney and her team are asking for “inappropriate and unjustified” punishments for President Yameen and his government, insisting that sanctions should be reserved for larger policy matters and should not be issued “over a single case.”
A legal battle between two celebrity wives causes a for-profit media to immediately see an opportunity for sensationalist coverage that would focus more on the attorneys themselves than on their client(s), and the UK newspaper The Independent seemed to briefly succumb to such temptation in late September when referring to the case as an “increasingly bitter” legal fight between Amal Clooney and Cherie Blair themselves. This is arguably inaccurate, as the public dialogue between Amal Clooney and Cherie Blair has not descended into the personal. The Telegraph also stepped right up to the line the following month with a “Cherie Blair v. Amal Clooney: At A Glance” infographic. However, all professionals involved in the case should be relieved (as should media consumers) that the majority of the coverage of President Nasheed’s appeals case seems to have sidestepped that dangerous pitfall.
Amal Clooney is offering her services to President Mohamed Nasheed pro bono. President Nasheed is known internationally as a leader who is committed to fighting human rights abuses and to acting on climate change. Clooney calls him a hero. In addition to the UN’s condemnation of his trial, Amnesty International has called it a “travesty of justice.”