Amal Clooney to join legal team of Philippine journalist Ressa

Amal Clooney is joining the legal team defending Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte. (Shutterstock)
Updated 09 July 2019
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Amal Clooney to join legal team of Philippine journalist Ressa

  • Ressa faces several criminal charges along with her website Rappler, in what press freedom advocates have branded an act of “persecution”
  • Duterte has branded Rappler a “fake news outlet” and his government insists it is simply enforcing the law as cases pile up against the website

MANILA: Prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney has said she will join the legal team defending Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte.
Ressa, who was named a Time Magazine “Person of the Year” in 2018 for her journalism, faces several criminal charges along with her website Rappler, in what press freedom advocates have branded an act of “persecution.”
“Maria Ressa is a courageous journalist who is being persecuted for reporting the news and standing up to human rights abuses,” Clooney said in a statement issued by London’s Doughty Street Chambers, where she works, on Monday.
“We will pursue all available legal remedies to vindicate her rights and defend press freedom and the rule of law in the Philippines,” added the British-Lebanese lawyer.
Clooney will work with a team of international lawyers as counsel to Ressa and coordinate with attorneys in Manila, the statement said.
Ressa was arrested twice this year and has accused Duterte of using prosecutions against her, including ongoing cases of alleged tax evasion and libel, to silence critics and intimidate the press.
Duterte has branded Rappler a “fake news outlet” and his government insists it is simply enforcing the law as cases pile up against the website publishing reports critical of the president’s deadly anti-drug crackdown.
“I am delighted that Amal Clooney and her team will be representing me at the international level to challenge the violations of my rights and those of the media organization I represent,” Ressa said in the statement.
Clooney, appointed special envoy for media freedom by the British government, also defended two Reuters journalists jailed for more than 16 months in Myanmar and freed in May.
Clooney’s taking on Ressa’s case will increase international attention on the journalist and her website, which have received a series of global awards from press freedom advocates.


Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

A villager tries to extinguish a wildfire at the village of Chaveira, near Macao, in central Portugal on Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 2 min 20 sec ago
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Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

  • By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk

VILA DE REI/MACAO, Portugal: After more than 50 hours, firefighters were still battling a wildfire in central Portugal late on Monday, as villagers and local authorities blamed a lack of resources and government inaction for the damage caused by the flames.
So far, 39 people had been injured, including one who was in serious condition. Portugal’s Civil Protection department said some villagers had been evacuated as a precaution and houses had been destroyed.
The fire was small in comparison with a massive blaze that hit the same region in June 2017, killing 64 people and burning about 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) in a few days. That was the worst disaster in modern Portuguese history.
Data from the European Union fire-mapping service showed about 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres) burned over the weekend.
Civil Protection said earlier on Monday that the fire, which broke out on Saturday afternoon, was 90% under control, but warned that the remaining blazes required “a lot of attention” as the winds whipped up later in the day, fanning the flames in tinder-dry conditions.
By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk.
“The worst-case scenario happened,” said Nunes. He said firefighters would adopt techniques overnight to put out the flames, including using four bulldozers provided by the armed forces.
Even though humidity is expected to remain low, the wind is set to lose strength in the early hours of Tuesday, which could help firefighters end the wildfire, Nunes added.
Covered in eucalyptus and pine trees, central Portugal is frequently hit by summer blazes, with hilly terrain making it especially difficult for firefighters to reach.

’THERE WAS NO ONE’
Villagers, as well as authorities in Macao and Vila de Rei, areas in the heart of the fire zone, said there were not enough firefighters and resources to combat the flames.
Sheep farmer Joaquim Ribeiro told Reuters there were no firefighters when the blaze arrived at his village in Macao, forcing him to transfer his animals elsewhere. “It was pandemonium.”
Another sheep farmer, Fernando Cardoso, said he rushed to a nearby fire station as the flames approached his village but the firefighters told him they could not help until given the green light.
“The fire appeared out of nowhere,” he said. “When we got here, there were flames everywhere, no place to turn, no firefighters, there was no one.”
Local authorities have also pointed the finger at Portugal’s Socialist government, led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
Speaking to Lusa news agency, the deputy mayor of Vila de Rei, Paulo Cesar, accused the government of not being able to prevent wildfires.
“The municipality is fed up with these successive fires linked to criminal activity and is fed up of seeing the state fail again,” he said.
Asked by reporters about the complaints, Costa said the mayors were “primarily responsible” for protecting their own municipalities from wildfires through “proper management of their territory.”
Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said police had opened an investigation into the fires. Portugal’s judiciary police have collected evidence and artifacts that could be related to the fires’ origin, an official told Lusa news agency.
In a statement, police said a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. But a police source, quoted by Portuguese newspaper Observador, said the detention was not related to the fires in question.
The police did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Civil Protection said 1,079 firefighters were on the ground, backed up by 347 firefighting vehicles.
Spain said late on Monday that it was sending two aircraft to help tackle the fires in Portugal.