Manila [Philippines]: Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will lead a legal team defending Philippines journalist Maria Ressa who has been repeatedly indicted this year on charges of tax evasion and cyber-libel.
“Maria Ressa is a courageous journalist who is being persecuted for reporting the news and standing up to human rights abuses. We will pursue all available legal remedies to vindicate her rights and defend press freedom and the rule of law in the Philippines,” CNN quoted Clooney as saying in a press statement released by London-based law firm Doughty Street Chambers.
Ressa is the co-founder and editor of online news website Rappler, which has gained prominence for its fearless coverage of human rights abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte.
She has also been indicted multiple times on libel and tax evasion charges that critics have described as designed to silence press freedom in the southeast Asian country. She worked for CNN before starting Rappler.
In an op-ed published this year by Columbia Journalism Review, Ressa accused Duterte of leading a systematic campaign against news organisations in the Philippines, and against herself personally.
“Legal hassles can take up 90 per cent of my time; a day after our May midterm elections, I was arraigned for cyber libel in the morning and appeared for a case of securities fraud in the afternoon,” the journalist wrote.
After being arrested on cyber libel charges in February, she told CNN it was an example of how the law is being “weaponized” against critics of the country’s president.
Speaking to CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout, Ressa said the law was “draining … democracy dry.”
Ressa had been charged with a lawsuit relating to a story written in 2012, which alleged that businessman Wilfredo Keng had links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. However, the article was published by Rappler two years before the new cyber libel laws came into effect in the Philippines.
In March, she was detained at Manila airport and later charged with violating the anti-dummy law, legislation related to securities fraud.