The online website Rappler covers human rights abuses carried out under President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
Duerte is a 74-year-old strongman leader who has made hostile movements against drug abuse and addicts; as a result, his actions have received extensive criticism, and Rappler’s co-founder and editor, Maria Ressa, is one of his biggest critics.
Earlier this year, Ressa published an op-ed in the Columbia Journalism Review where she accused Duterte of campaigning against the media in general and her, in particular. Now, she is being attacked with several libel and tax evasion charges.
Ressa wrote: “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.”
Special Envoy for Media Freedom
Amal Clooney, who was appointed Special Envoy for Media Freedom by the British government, plans to defend Ressa. In the past, Clooney defended two Reuters journalists who were jailed for over 16 months in Myanmar before they were freed.
Doughty Street Chambers, her London-based law firm, made this statement: “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.”
However, Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s spokesperson and former legal counsel, responded condescendingly when questioned concerning Clooney’s legal team and their defense of Ressa.
According to ABS CBN News, he said, “When Maria and I debate, she’s at a disadvantage because she’s not a lawyer. She needs a lawyer. There, she has a beautiful, sexy lawyer,” referring to Clooney.
“I’m serious, I’m very serious… Ressa is just looking for an ally. They’re welcome to defend Maria.”
“Amal, she is misinformed. Maybe if we meet I can, to use the words of the President, ‘educate her.’”
In February, Ressa was arrested on cyber libel charges and commented afterward in an interview with CNN that the law was being “weaponized” against critics of Duterte, which is “draining … democracy dry.”