Maria Ressa’s International Legal Team Welcome Dismissal of Cyberlibel Charge

Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, on behalf of the international legal team representing award-winning journalist Maria Ressa, welcome the dismissal of a spurious cyberlibel case that had been filed against her.

The now-dismissed case arose out of a single tweet by Ms Ressa on her Twitter account in February 2019, which attached a screenshot of a newspaper article that had already been published concerning ties between a former Philippines Chief Justice and businessman Wilfredo Keng.

This charge followed Maria’s widely-criticised conviction for ‘cyberlibel’ following a report published by Rappler about the same judge. In that case, she was convicted even though cyberlibel was not a crime at the time of publication, the prosecution being time-barred, and the article relating to alleged corruption by a supreme court justice facing impeachment at the time – a matter of clear public interest.  Ms Ressa is appealing that conviction.

Yesterday, Tuesday 1 June 2021, Makati Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano formally dismissed the case at a short court hearing. The case was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning that Mr Keng cannot file a new claim relating to this tweet, and the bail bond previously posted by Ms Ressa was released. This followed Mr Keng indicating that he no longer wished to pursue the claim, and the public prosecutor then seeking dismissal of the case.  

Yesterday’s dismissal disposes of just one of nine spurious criminal prosecutions and civil cases that have been launched against Ms Ressa and her media organisation Rappler in response to their public interest journalism.  As a result of this barrage of cases, Ms Ressa risks facing the rest of her life in prison. The actions of the Philippines Government have been widely condemned internationally, including by the USA, the UK, Canada, the UN, the EU and the Media Freedom Coalition of States.  In December 2020, Ms Ressa was specifically identified by the US Congress for protection under legislation directing the imposition of sanctions on foreign government officials involved in the intimidation of independent journalists, and the US Department of State’s most recent Report on the Philippines has expressed concern that Rappler “continued to be a target of substantial pressure.”  In a joint motion for a resolution in September 2020, the European Parliament called for all “politically motivated charges” against Ms Ressa and her colleagues to be dropped.  The UN has highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the Government” and the need for “robust intervention by the UN.” 

International Legal Team Response

Ms Amal Clooney said:

“One down, eight to go. Prosecutors in the Philippines were right to drop this absurd case, and Judge Soriano was right to dismiss it with prejudice. But since none of the cases against Maria have any merit, the authorities should also drop the other prosecutions and overturn her criminal conviction for libel. She is a journalist who is being pursued for her journalism and she should be allowed to get back to work without further harassment. If not, we should see concrete action by the United States, the EU and the group of states that form the Media Freedom Coalition.”      

Ms Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC said:

“We welcome the dismissal of this cyberlibel prosecution, and thank all those who have supported our brave client, Maria Ressa, in fighting these nonsensical charges. Ms Ressa should never have faced an arrest warrant, the threat of imprisonment and the stress and expense of defending herself over an innocuous tweet and screengrab. This week’s good news marks one small battle victory in a far larger and longer war. Ms Ressa already faces up to six years imprisonment following her conviction on baseless charges last year, and she continues to be threatened by the Philippines authorities with decades more in prison.

The Philippines benefits from a preferential trading agreement with the EU, on the basis that it complies with international human rights standards. This continuing barrage of cases against Ms Ressa, punishing her for her work and attempting to silence investigative journalists in the Philippines, makes a mockery of this. The EU and the international community must now press the authorities to ensure that all charges against Ms Ressa are dropped and all other proceedings against her halted.”    

Ms Maria Ressa said:

“Such is the arbitrary nature of the law in the Philippines – as it came, so it goes. I have done my job the best way I know how for 35 years. These ludicrous cases only show how important the mission of journalism is today to hold power to account.

I look forward to seeing the other cases meant to intimidate and harass me and Rappler being dismissed.”

The international legal team now calls for all of the remaining cases against Ms Ressa and Rappler to be dropped forthwith.

Ms Clooney and Ms Gallagher lead the international counsel team acting for Ms Ressa, working with fellow barristers Can Yeginsu and Claire Overman.  The team is also working closely with Peter Lichtenbaum, Stephen Rademaker, Rani Gupta and Lisa Peets of Covington & Burling LLP, as well as Ms Ressa’s counsel team in Manila.