Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC welcome intervention of international experts in Maria Ressa’s Supreme Court appeal

Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, on behalf of the international legal team representing journalist and Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa, welcome third party ‘amicus curiae’ interventions by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute in Ms Ressa’s final appeal of her libel conviction before the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

The International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) brief includes the legal opinion of three esteemed experts who unanimously found that Ms Ressa’s conviction and sentence violated relevant legal standards. Elizabeth Wilmshurst CMG KC, former visiting Professor of International Law at University College London and former legal adviser in the United Kingdom diplomatic service, confirmed that the courts of the Philippines should apply the law ‘compatibly with the international obligations of the Philippines’, that Ms Ressa’s conviction ‘impose[s] restrictions on freedom of expression contrary to Articles 19(2) and 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)’ and that her conviction ‘raise[s] fair trial concerns under Article 14 of the ICCPR and other international instruments to which the Philippines is a party’. In addition, according to Justice Azcuna, a distinguished former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, the charges of ‘cyberlibel’ against Ms Ressa contravene the ‘bedrock principle’ in the Philippine Constitution prohibiting the enactment of ex post facto legislation. Justice Azcuna held that the ‘convictions should be reversed and set aside’ and that Ms Ressa and her co-defendant should be acquitted.

UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan’s brief held that ‘criminal defamation laws are an inappropriate means of limiting freedom of the press’, and that the UN Human Rights Committee has already found the laws under which Ms Ressa is charged are ‘contrary to human rights law’.

Ms Clooney said:

‘Leading experts from across the world, including a former judge from the Philippine Supreme Court and the UN Special Rapporteur on free speech, all agree: Maria Ressa’s conviction and sentence for libel violates her rights under both Philippine law and international law. I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines to enter these expert reports into the court record, and I hope that the Court will now finally overturn her conviction, and allow justice – and media freedom – to prevail’.

Ms Gallagher KC said:

‘It has been almost four years since our brave client, Maria Ressa, was convicted of ‘cyberlibel’ in June 2020, in a case which has been widely condemned across the globe. Now, leading experts have detailed in these two important amicus curiae briefs the multiple ways in which this case flagrantly violates Maria Ressa’s rights, and severely weakens media freedom and the rule of law. Four years on, this case must finally be brought to a just end – for Ms Ressa and for the Philippines.’

Ms Ressa’s international legal team is led by Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and includes fellow barristers Can Yeginsu and Claire Overman and lawyer Alice Gardoll. The team is also working closely with Peter Lichtenbaum, Stephen Rademaker and former Ambassador Daniel Feldman of Covington & Burling LLP.


Ms Ressa, co-founder of news website and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, faces a sentence of imprisonment of up to 6 years and 8 months following her conviction by the Manila Regional Trial Court for the criminal charge of ‘cyberlibel’. The conviction relates to a public interest story published by Rappler about alleged corruption by the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which stated that the judge drove a car belonging to a businessman with an allegedly ‘shady past’.  

This draconian sentence is based on a law that did not exist when the article was published and on charges that were brought six years after the legal time limit expired. The article was not even authored by Ms Ressa and, as a report on a matter of public interest written in good faith, should be protected free speech in Philippine law. Yet her conviction and sentence have been upheld by the Court of Appeal, and Ms Ressa and her co-defendant (the author of the story) have lodged a final appeal to the Supreme Court. Their appeal has been pending before the First Division of that Court since November 2022.

In addition to the cyberlibel charge, Ms Ressa faces other bogus criminal charges designed to silence her journalism. These include charges related to an allegedly illegal foreign investment in Rappler by an American philanthropic fund, as well as challenges to two acquittals on related tax charges exposing her to a further 30 years’ imprisonment. Rappler is also currently battling an order from the Securities and Exchange Commission revoking its registration and shutting it down, and facing a protracted tax audit designed to add additional pressure on its journalists. This campaign of state-sponsored ‘lawfare’ against Ms Ressa and Rappler continues to be widely condemned internationally, including by the United Nations, the US Department of State, the US Congress, the European Union and the Media Freedom Coalition of 50 states.

Interventions before the Supreme Court

The IBAHRI submitted the opinion of three experts pursuant to Rule 138, section 36 of the Rules of Court in the Philippines which provides that ‘experienced and impartial attorneys may be invited by the Court to appear as amici curiae to help in the disposition of the issues’ before the Supreme Court.

The experts are Justice Adolfo Azcuna, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, whose opinion provides an assessment of the compatibility of Ms Ressa’s conviction and sentence with Philippine law; Elizabeth Wilmshurst CMG KC, distinguished Fellow of Chatham House, former Legal Adviser to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who provided an assessment of the compatibility of Ms Ressa’s conviction and sentence with international law; and Theodore J. Boutrous, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a leading First Amendment lawyer in the U.S.

The Special Rapporteur submitted her brief to the Supreme Court on the basis that Ms Ressa’s appeal ‘raises questions of great public interest in relation to freedom of expression’. As an independent expert appointed by the United Nations, the Special Rapporteur considered that her intervention in the case was appropriate to ‘ensure the universal protection of human rights’ given ‘the broad impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on the ability of the media to function in the Philippines’.

It is not known when the Supreme Court will make its ruling on the merits of the appeal. The prosecution could concede Ms Ressa’s appeal and thus bring an end to these proceedings at any time.