by Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has condemned a decision by a court in the Philippines to uphold the conviction of Nobel prize-winner Maria Ressa in a cyber libel case and her legal team has said the world is watching to see if newly elected president Ferdinand Marcos Jr will “stop the rot” or continue attacks on journalists.
Maria Ressa, co-founder of the website Rappler, lost her appeal last week against a conviction for cyber libel – just one of an onslaught of legal cases and investigations the journalist is battling.
Ressa and her former colleague Rey Santos Jr, who face jail over the conviction, plan to appeal again, including to the supreme court.
Clooney, who jointly leads the international counsel team acting for Ressa, said the journalist “should be celebrated – not thrown in jail” for her work. Ressa had been “considered guilty until proven innocent – and then prevented from proving her innocence”, she said.
Clooney added that she hoped the Marcos Jr administration would “show the world that it is strong enough to withstand scrutiny and allow a free press”.
Independent media came under intense pressure under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte. Just days before he left office, the Philippine authorities ordered Rappler to shut down over an allegation that the outlet violated restrictions on foreign ownership in media – a claim that Rappler denies.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who leads Ressa’s international counsel team with Clooney, said the Philippines was at a pivotal moment. “Duterte leaves behind a country in which press freedom, human rights and the rule of law have been severely weakened,” Gallagher said. “The world is watching how the new president responds. Will President Ferdinand Marcos Jr stop the rot, or will he double down on his predecessor’s attacks on journalists and civil society?”
It is feared that conditions for journalists may not improve under Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the former dictator. His father is notorious for imposing martial law and closing down all independent media outlets, and he too has been criticised for seeking to dodge media perceived as critical during election campaigning.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd
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