Rights lawyer Amal Clooney to represent journalist Maria Ressa

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Maria Ressa and the Philippines “war on truth”. Video: Al Jazeera’s Witness

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

International human rights lawyers Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC will lead a legal team representing Maria Ressa, the award-winning Philippines journalist, editor and publisher who has been repeatedly arrested this year on charges that critics say are designed to silence her, reports CNN.

“It is clear that the government is manipulating the law to muzzle and intimidate one of its most credible media critics,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists after her arrest in March.

“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,” Clooney said in a press statement released by London-based law firm Doughty Street Chambers announcing the relationship.

READ MORE: Maria Ressa – targeted by Duterte

Ressa is the cofounder and editor of online news site Rappler, which has gained prominence for its unflinching coverage of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and his brutal war on drugs.

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She has been indicted multiple times on libel and tax evasion charges that critics have described as designed to silence independent media in the southeast Asian country. She worked for CNN as an investigative journalist 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 percent 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,” she wrote.

Cyber libel charges
After being arrested on cyber libel charges in February, she told CNN it was an example of how the law was being “weaponised” 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.

Clooney has previously represented Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were jailed in Myanmar under the country’s Official Secrets Act for reporting on a massacre of Rohingya civilians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning pair were released in May.

Rappler cofounder and editor Maria Ressa … “the law is draining … democracy dry.”  Image: RSF
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