International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney wants journalist Maria Ressa to be cleared of a cyber libel charge when the verdict is delivered on Monday, because accusations against the Rappler founder are baseless.
In an op-ed piece published on the Washington Post on Friday, Clooney said “the way this case is handled will be a signal of what lies ahead.”
“So the world will be watching on Monday, and no one should be watching more closely than the US government. Because as well as being Filipino, Maria is American,” added Clooney, counsel to Ressa.
“And it has been a hallmark of this administration to strongly defend its citizens captured and falsely imprisoned abroad.”
The case stems from businessman Wilfredo Keng’s complaint in 2017 over a story on news site Rappler five years earlier about his alleged ties to former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Keng accused Ressa and Rappler of smearing his reputation over a May 2012 article alleging that he allowed Corona to use an SUV. The same article cited an intelligence report alleging that Keng had a “shady past.”
Government investigators initially dismissed Keng’s allegation.
But state prosecutors later revived the case using a controversial cyber crime statute aimed at online offenses ranging from stalking to child pornography.
Authorities have said they are not targeting Ressa, a former CNN journalist, for her work and are simply enforcing the law.
But press and media watchdogs say the case against Ressa is in retaliation to Rappler’s independent reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration.
Clooney said that, with a conviction, the “message to other journalists and independent voices is clear: Keep quiet, or you’ll be next.”
“Let’s hope that on Monday a trial judge in Manila will send a very different message. And that if she doesn’t, we will see a robust response,” she added.
Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, Britain’s special envoy on media freedom, said the charges leveled against Ressa “are based on a law that violates international standards enshrined in treaties that the Philippines has ratified, by allowing imprisonment as a penalty for allegedly libelous speech.”
The multiple moves against Rappler have drawn international concern and made Ressa a cause celebre globally for people standing up against authoritarian governments.
Time magazine named Ressa a Person of the Year in 2018.
Rights watchdogs say the Duterte government has in recent weeks stepped up its campaign to silence dissent in other ways, with the nation’s top broadcaster — ABS-CBN — shut down.
Lawmakers also this month passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which allows warrantless arrests, weeks of detention without charge and other measures that critics fear could be used to crack down on peaceful government opponents.
In a virtual interview with the International Center for Journalists that aired over Facebook ON Saturday, Ressa said: “I’m ready. I’m prepared for the worst. Rappler is prepared for the worst, but we are desperately hoping for the best because we believe that the mission of journalism is extremely important today.” — With a report from Agence France-Presse