International human rights lawyers Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC will lead a defense team to represent Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, who is a frequent critic of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a statement released by her London-based law firm Doughty Street Chambers, Clooney called Ressa "a courageous journalist who is being persecuted for reporting the news and standing up to human rights abuses."
Ressa, one of several journalists around the world named "Person of the Year" in 2018 by Time magazine, is the co-founder of the online news site Rappler. She has been arrested several times on charges of tax evasion and libel, including her arrest in February in connection with a 2012 report about a businessman linked to murder and trafficking humans and drugs.
In an op-ed published in the Columbia Journalism Review this year, Ressa accused Duterte of leading a systematic campaign against news organizations and journalists, including herself.
"Legal hassles can take up 90% of my time; a day after our May midterm elections, I was arraigned for cyber libel in the morning and appeared for a case of securities fraud in the afternoon," she wrote.
Ressa told Agence-France Presse Tuesday that she faced at least 11 cases which required her to post bail eight times and pay a bond to travel overseas.
"Rappler should not have to face tactics of harassment, intimidation. We are trying to find the best way forward to make sure our rights are protected," she said.
Ressa said she was "delighted" Clooney and her team would represent her to "challenge the violations of my rights and those of the media organization I represent."
Duterte's former legal counsel dismissed the announcement, saying Clooney could not practice law in the Philippines but added he was "excited" to debate with a "beautiful and sexy" lawyer.
"Attorney Amal is misinformed. Maybe when we see each other, I can, to use the word of the president, 'educate her'," Salvador Panelo told reporters.