Amal Clooney denounces ‘legal charade’ against Filipino journalist Maria Ressa

Bangkok, Jan 19 (efe-epa).- Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has decried the “legal charade” by the Philippines government to silence Maria Ressa after the prominent Filipino journalist was charged with cyber libel for the third time.

Ressa, currently out on bail, was arrested last week for a story that alleged that students had bribed a university professor in exchange for approving their project and a pass. The story appeared in Rappler, the outlet Ressa heads.

The journalist is already battling a series of legal charges and the latest could lead to about seven years in prison.

Clooney, who is leading a team of international lawyers representing Ressa, in a statement sent to EFE on Tuesday, said it was the 10th arrest warrant issued against the journalist and the third libel prosecution for a public interest story.

“It is the latest step in the Philippine government’s increasingly transparent campaign to silence her and shut down her news site, just as they shut down the leading broadcaster in the country,” Clooney said.

She was referring to ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network, which was was forced to wind up after Philippine lawmakers in December rejected its application for renewal of its franchise.

The network was forced off the air in May after the franchise expired.

“We hope that defenders of democracy will stand up for the press and that Philippine judges will put an end to this legal charade (against Ress),” Clooney said.

Ressa, honored by Time magazine as Person of the Year in 2018, has denied the charge for the story that she did not write, edit or supervise. The story was written by Rappler reporter Rafael Talabong.

The two each posted bail of 30,000 pesos ($625) on Thursday.

The article published in January 2020 and still available on Rappler alleges that students had paid Ariel Pineda, a professor at the University of San Benilde, in exchange for approving their final project.

The article was supported by documentary evidence and testimonies.

Ressa was also charged with cyber liber last December following a lawsuit by businessman Wilfredo Keng for sharing a screenshot of an article that was allegedly defamatory towards him.

The 57-year-old journalist was convicted last June for cyber libel after an article published in 2012 on the Rappler portal on corruption in the Philippine judiciary.

The article had exposed the alleged illegal activities of Wilfredo Keng and his alleged involvement in a criminal case.

The journalist faces between six months and six years in prison for the conviction that she has challenged.

Ressa faces eight other criminal cases related to tax evasion and the country’s media act.

She has attributed them to a “political persecution” as a result of Rappler’s critical reporting concerning President Rodrigo Duterte’s management and the abuses during the war on drugs.

Numerous human rights organizations and press freedom defenders have denounced the campaign against her.

They say Ressa is a victim of the judicial harassment by the government of Duterte, who has made no secret of his dislike for her news portal. EFE-EPA

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