Amal Clooney to lead team of int’l lawyers representing Maria Ressa

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT. Amal Clooney with Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa after an event in New York in April 2019. File photo by Rappler

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT. Amal Clooney with Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa after an event in New York in April 2019.

File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who both specialize in international law and human rights, announced on Monday, July 8, that they will act as international counsels to Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa.

As international lawyers, they will look into how best to protect her and Rappler under international laws.

Ressa faces 9 cases in court in the Philippines, but overall, she, Rappler, its directors, and staff face at least 11 complaints, investigations, and cases that started months after President Rodrigo Duterte blasted the news site in his 2017 State of the Nation Address that year. (READ: List of cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)

"Our Filipino lawyers continue to defend us in our cases now pending in court as well as in the complaints that are pending with the justice department," Ressa said in a statement on Tuesday, July 9. "Our international lawyers will look into how best to protect us under international law and institutions, and will work with our Philippine counsels toward this goal," she added.

Clooney, appointed special envoy for media freedom by the British government, also defended two Reuters journalists jailed for more than 16 months in Myanmar and freed in May.

Clooney and Gallagher said they will be working with barristers Can Yeginsu and Katherine O’Byrne. They will also be working closely with one of the top law firms in the United States, Covington & Burling LLP, including Ambassador Daniel Feldman, Peter Lichtenbaum, and Kurt Wimmer, at the firm’s Washington DC office.

Asked why she decided to take on this case, Clooney said: “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.” 

Ressa said that the support of international lawyers will help shine the light on the media situation in the Philippines and elsewhere where press freedom is under threat.

“I have been targeted and attacked simply for being an independent journalist. I am delighted that Amal Clooney and her team will be representing me at the international level to challenge the violations of my rights and those of the media organization I represent,” Ressa said.

Twice arrested this year and released after posting bail, Ressa is facing 9 cases in at least 5 courts in Metro Manila. For the corporate-related cases filed against her before the Court of Tax Appeals and Pasig courts, she is being defended by ACCRA, one of the Philippines' top law firms. In the cyber libel case lodged against her and a former Rappler researcher before a Manila court, their counsels are former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te and the Free Legal Assistance Group.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered Rappler’s closure in January 2018 following alleged violation of a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of the media. Rappler appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals in July 2018 remanded the case to the commission, saying it should take note of the steps taken by Rappler to remedy the situation.

In succession, the Philippine justice department filed separate cases of tax evasion, anti-dummy, and cyber libel against Ressa, Rappler’s directors, and a former researcher. 

The Office of the President has also banned all Rappler reporters and correspondents from covering the President, a move that the same reporters questioned before the Supreme Court in a petition filed last April.

At least 41 other Filipino journalists, academics, and press freedom advocates signed and supported the petition– with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com