Amal Clooney has announced that she will take on the case of Maria Ressa, a journalist facing charges over her reporting of human rights abuses in the Philippines.
The British-Lebanese human rights lawyer has worked on some of the most critical cases in the world, including the recognition of the Armenian genocide and the representation of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former trafficked sex slave, Nadia Murad.
Now, she will lead the legal team representing Ressa, the editor of the news site Rappler who was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for taking “great risks in pursuit of greater truth” through her candid and critical reporting.
One of the most respected journalists in southeast Asia, Ressa caught the attention of the country’s leader Rodrigo Duterte when she began writing about his so-called war on drugs – a campaign recently dubbed a “large-scale murdering enterprise” by the human rights organisation Amnesty.
Thousands of people have been killed since 2016, when President Duterte pledged to wipe out drug abuse in the Philippines and gave police virtual impunity to arrest and shoot anyone suspected of being a dealer or an addict.
Duterte has also attempted to control his media image, with an army of online trolls pushing out pro-government stories and a crackdown on sites like Ressa’s Rappler, which she set up with three fellow female journalists in 2012.
Thanks to her major role in exposing the extent of Duterte’s brutality, Ressa has been arrested and released on bail several times over the past year and is now facing charges relating to alleged 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,” Clooney said in a statement from her chambers in London’s Doughty Street. “We will pursue all available legal remedies to vindicate her rights and defend press freedom and the rule of law in the Philippines.”
Last year, Clooney defended two journalists who were imprisoned in Myanmar after reporting on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, and she was appointed as the British special envoy on media freedom this April.
Clooney’s representation of Maria Ressa will help keep a spotlight on the violence of Duterte’s drug war and his restrictions on press freedom – if anyone’s well-equipped to take on tyranny, it’s her.