Maria Ressa who is the founder and executive editor of the online news site, Rappler, is facing up to six years in prison. She has been charged of violating the 2012 Cyber Crime Law of the Philippines. FORSEA condemns the questionable charges against Masia Ressa.
FORSEA joins force with other concerned organisations in the region regarding the threat against journalists. Early this week, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) issued a statement on the conviction by a Manila Court against Maria Ressa. The charge was filed by Filipino businessman Wilfredo Keng, five years after an article was published in Rappler. This raises questions about his links to a former Supreme Court judge. The article in question was published before the Cyber Crime Law was passed. Criminal libel complaints in the Philippines cannot be filed more than a year after the alleged offence, and the Cyber Crime Law cannot be applied retroactively. However, Keng exploited a technicality, as Rappler made a small typographical correction to the article in 2014, and the Department of Justice has now ruled that Cyber Crime charges can now be filed up to 12 years after the alleged offence.
FORSEA supports the call by the FCCT to oppose criminal defamation in principle. Damage to reputation in most countries is a civil matter, to be adjudicated in civil courts, with no risk of criminal punishments being imposed. Criminal defamation is widely misused in countries like Thailand, where it can be exploited to blackmail defendants into paying large out-of-court settlements or to silence political critics and human rights defenders. The dubious basis for this criminal conviction of a well-respected journalist in the Philippines, along with multiple other legal cases filed against Rappler under the Duterte government, amount to a serious attack on media freedom, which affects the work of all journalists in the country. Maria Ressa should be allowed to go free to continue holding those in power in the Philippines to account.
Expressions of “Disbelief”
Meanwhile, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed its disbelief. “By passing this extremely harsh sentence at the end of utterly Kafkaesque proceedings, the Philippine justice system has demonstrated a complete lack of independence from the executive,” said a representative of the RSF. “This sentence bears the malevolent mark of President Duterte and his desire, by targeting Rappler and the figure of Maria Ressa, to eliminate all criticism whatever the cost. We urge Manila’s judges to restore a semblance of credibility to the Philippine judicial system by overturning this conviction on appeal”, added by the RSF representative.
It is evident that this conviction of Ressa and Rappler is the latest chapter in the systematic judicial harassment to which they have been subjected by various government agencies for more than two years. Either directly or through Ressa, the website is facing ten other similar complaints, each as baseless as the other, with the aim of intimidating its journalists. What with denying its reporters access to the presidential palace, threatening to withdraw its licence and accusing it of tax evasion, the authorities have stopped at nothing to harass Rappler, even arbitrarily detaining Ressa overnight in February 2019.
ABS-CBN, the biggest Philippine broadcast network and one of the few other media outlets to dare criticize the government, had its franchise withdrawn last month. Its radio stations and TV channels all stopped broadcasting on 5 May at the behest of the justice department and National Telecommunications Commission. The country’s irascible and authoritarian president had warned the network’s executives last December: “If you expect that [the franchise] will be renewed, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out.”
FORSEA calls on the Philippines to drop all charges against Maria Ressa immediately.
This report is based on the statements of the FCCT and RSF.
Banner: 2019: Maria Ressa attends the TIME 100 Gala 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, USA. Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com