Three days after the Philippines celebrated its 122nd Independence Day, a Manila court convicted Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr for cyber libel. The conviction reflects the continuing decline of press freedom under the government of Rodrigo Duterte.
Ressa and Santos were charged for publishing a story in 2012 about the alleged links between businessman Wilfredo Keng and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona who was facing an impeachment trial during that time. The complaint was filed by Keng in 2017, a year after Duterte came to power and five years after the publication of the alleged libelous article.
Ressa and Santos were sentenced to 6 months and 1 day to up to 6 years in jail aside from being ordered to pay P200,000 (4,000 US dollars) in moral damages and another P200,000 in exemplary damages. They remain free after posting bail.
[READ MORE about the legal repercussion of the court ruling on the work of media and even on ordinary internet users]
Ressa faces 7 other charges which many believe are politically-motivated because of Rappler’s critical coverage of the human rights record of the Duterte government.
The conviction comes a month after the country’s largest TV and radio broadcaster was forced to stop operating after it got a cease and desist order from a government regulator despite being assured that it can continue to remain on the air while its franchise is being deliberated in Congress.
“A day of grief, mourning, and rage”
Rappler issued a statement condemning how the rule of law was “twisted to suit the interests of those in power.”
“Today is a day of grief, mourning, and rage. The decision today marks not the rule of law, but the rule of law twisted to suit the interests of those in power who connive to satisfy their mutually beneficial personal and political agenda. Today marks diminished freedom and more threats to democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, especially in the context of a looming anti-terrorism law.”
During a press briefing, Ressa noted that “this is (a) pivotal moment for the idea of what a free press means.” She also chided the Duterte government for targeting her and other critical journalists.
What is the government afraid of? Why are they afraid of journalists? Why do they always make me feel their power?
Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo highlighted that this is the latest in many instances of the law being utilized to muzzle the free press. “Silencing, harassing, and weaponizing law against the media sends a clear message to every dissenting voice: Keep quiet or you are next.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is worried that authorities can use the Rappler case as precedent to launch a crackdown on protesting citizens. It emphasized that “the trial was a test run for the latest weapon the State can now wield to intimidate and silence not only the media but all citizens who call out government abuse.”
IFEX members express solidarity to Rappler
Several IFEX members have issued statements deploring the verdict.
Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance from Australia said it will have a “chilling effect on public interest journalism.”
The International Federation of Journalists said the case “highlights the ongoing use of the rule of law by authoritarian governments to silence the media and hold politicians accountable.”
Human Rights Watch warned that “the prosecution was not just an attack on these individual journalists, but also a frontal assault on freedom of the press which is critical to protect and preserve Philippines democracy.”
Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship, urged free speech advocates to support Rappler:
“We call on those who care about media freedom globally to stand up and take notice. This is not just about one journalist in one place, this has significance for journalism everywhere as part of a trend where we see reporters put under enormous pressures to stop covering stories.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists underscored the impact of the ruling on Filipino journalists:
“Although out on bail while she appeals the verdict, Ressa’s wrongful conviction sends a message to all journalists that you could be next if you report critically on President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.”
ARTICLE 19 lamented how Philippine courts “have demonstrated their willingness to be used as instruments of retaliation and control.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asked the court to overturn the verdict:
“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.”
Malaysia-based Centre For Independent Journalism reminded Philippine authorities about it has a duty to uphold press freedom in a democracy:
“The role of the State, on the other hand, is to promote democracy and allow dissenting voices to be heard and accessed, ultimately promoting good governance and holding the State to account.”
Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of free expression programs, pointed out how both Duterte and United States President Donald Trump shared a common rhetoric against the media.
“We should not forget that Duterte’s rhetoric about the media is an echo of President Trump’s; Duterte has called Rappler ‘fake news’ because they dare to challenge him.”
CCHR condemns the cyber libel conviction of the CEO & a former journalist of online news outlet @rapplerdotcom based in the Philippines. We express our solidarity with Maria Ressa & Rey Santos, & the citizens of the Philippines who have endured restricted freedom of expression. pic.twitter.com/gUmoIvvq06
— CCHR Cambodia (@cchrcambodia) June 15, 2020
The International Press Institute has put together a campaign toolbox about the case and how press freedom advocates can support Ressa and Rappler.
Support for Rappler and Ressa
Indian journalist Rana Ayyub, who is also often a target of online attacks, praised the courage of Ressa. “Proud to have you as a friend and fellow journalist. With you all the way. Your courage has been an inspiration for so many of us fighting to speak the truth. Solidarity.”
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye tweeted his support for Ressa:
this is a tragedy for #Philippines democracy and media and for one of the great voices for freedom today, @mariaressa, a friend and inspiration to so many of us. this injustice cannot stand. https://t.co/y3Q4zWXnYk
— David Kaye (@davidakaye) June 15, 2020
Also extending her solidarity is UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions Agnès Callamard
A travesty of justice; a tragedy for the Philippines; but not the end of the fight and solidarity with and for @mariaressa and #pressfreedom. Dearest friend, I am appalled, angry, and so much in awe with your courage. https://t.co/bJoYUpI0rp
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) June 15, 2020
The post In solidarity with Rappler and Journalist Maria Ressa after cyber libel conviction appeared first on IFEX.
Source: MEDIA FEED