Clooney to defend Ressa, Panelo eager to debate

Prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney says she will join the legal team defending Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Clooney to defend Ressa, Panelo eager to debate
Panelo and Clooney
Ressa, who was named a Time magazine “Person of the Year” in 2018 for her journalism, faces several criminal charges along with her website Rappler, in what press freedom advocates have branded an act of “persecution.”

“Maria Ressa is a courageous journalist who is being persecuted for reporting the news and standing up to human rights abuses,” Clooney said in a statement issued Monday by London’s Doughty Street Chambers, where she works.

“We will pursue all available legal remedies to vindicate her rights and defend press freedom and the rule of law in the Philippines,” added the British-Lebanese lawyer.

Responding to the announcement, President Duterte’s spokesman said Clooney could not practice law in the Philippines but added he was “excited” to debate with the lawyer whom he described as “beautiful and sexy.”

“Attorney Amal is misinformed. Maybe when we see each other, I can, to use the word of the President, educate her,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters.

“When Maria and I were debating, she was pitiful because she is not a lawyer. So perhaps she needs a lawyer... They are welcome to defend Maria,” Panelo added.

Clooney will work with a team of international lawyers based in the US and Britain as counsel to Ressa and coordinate with lawyers in Manila.

Ressa was arrested twice this year and has accused Duterte of using the prosecutions against her―including the ongoing cases of alleged tax evasion and libel―to silence critics and intimidate the press.

READ: Rappler, top exec evaded taxes—DOJ ruling

Duterte has branded Rappler a “fake news outlet.” The government is insisting it is simply enforcing the law as cases pile up against the website, which frequently publishes reports critical of the President’s deadly anti-drug crackdown.

“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 in the statement.

Ressa said Tuesday she faced at least 11 cases that required her to post bail eight times and pay a bond to travel overseas.

“Rappler should not have to face tactics of harassment, intimidation. We are trying to find the best way forward to make sure our rights are protected,” Ressa told AFP.

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’s taking on Ressa’s case will increase international attention on the journalist and her website, which have received a series of global awards from press freedom advocates. With MJ Blancaflor

READ: Panelo says DOJ found probable case vs Rappler

READ: DOJ sustains ruling denying Rappler appeal

READ: Facing tax evasion cases, Rappler vows to fight back

Topics: Amal Clooney , Maria Ressa , Rodrigo Duterte , Rappler , Doughty Street Chambers
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