Working pro bono, the human rights lawyer is defending the country's imprisoned former president Mohamed Nasheed

By Elizabeth Leonard
September 09, 2015 11:30 AM
Mohamed Sharuhaan/AP

As an international law and human rights attorney, Amal Clooney is no stranger to high-stakes cases and navigating precarious, and potentially dangerous, situations. But her visit to the Maldives this week to meet with Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s former president currently imprisoned in a Maafushi jail, poses its own risks.

“Amal is in a pretty rough spot right now in the Maldives,” says a source close to the London-based barrister, who is working pro bono to defend the Maldives’ first democratically elected president.

“President Nasheed is a really good, forward-thinking man, in a really dangerous situation, and Amal being there is really tricky and really dangerous.”

In fact, just ahead of Clooney’s visit, her co-counsel Mahfooz Saeed was stabbed in the head on Sept. 4 by masked men outside his Malé hotel and remains in critical condition in a local hospital.

Immediately following the ambush, Amnesty International called for an impartial investigation and warned, “Maldives authorities must ensure that human rights defenders can work free from fear of reprisals.” The organization added, “Political tensions in Maldives are running high, and there is a climate of fear spreading among opposition supporters and human rights defenders, as the human rights situation has deteriorated over the past two years.”

Clooney, 37, arrived in the Maldives on Monday and had a jail-house meeting the next day with Nasheed, whose detention for “terrorism” Clooney has called “arbitrary and in violation of international law.” Describing Nasheed’s conviction and 13-year sentence as “a mockery of justice” in an April editorial for The Guardian – his arrest, trial, conviction and sentencing took less than three weeks – she remains steadfast in her fight for the politician’s freedom.

Those who know Clooney (wife to George Clooney) attest that human rights work is her lifeblood. Like her ongoing defense of Canadian national and Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy imprisoned in Egypt, taking risks is part of the job.

“She’s in a place she knew was dangerous going in, but this is her [work],” says the source. “She’s doing such an amazing job and taking such big risks and doing it all for no money. These are cases that aren’t easily won.”

“She’s always been this way. She did a little bit of corporate law early on in New York and realized it was boring and she wanted to be a human rights attorney. It’s what drives her,” says the source.

“It’s not about fame or money or any of that for her.”

Recently offered a multi-million contract with a luxury brand, she turned it down, confirms a representative for the Clooneys, adding, “She was very flattered but it’s just not what she’s interested in doing.”

“She’s been offered huge amounts of money to not do this job and to just be famous and pretty and stylish. But she doesn’t even blink. She says, ‘That’s not who I am and that’s not what I do.’ ”