Princeton alumni, students call for end to ‘intimidation campaign’ vs Maria Ressa

Sofia Tomacruz
A hundred graduates call on government officials, policy makers, and businesses to 'press' the Philippine government to end its harassment of Maria Ressa and the Philippine press

STOP HARASSMENT. Princeton graduates call for an end to the 'clear intimidation campaign' the Philippine government has mounted against their fellow alumna Maria Ressa. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Distinguished Princeton University alumni expressed their solidarity with Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa, denouncing what they described as the Philippine government’s “clear campaign of intimidation.”

In an open letter published in the university’s The Daily Princetonian, on Wednesday, February 20, 100 graduates called for an end to the harassment campaign against Rappler. All those who signed are or have been journalists.

“We call upon government officials, policymakers, businesses, and private individuals to use whatever leverage they have to press the Philippine government to cease its harassment of Ressa and the rest of that country’s press,” the group said. (READ: In rare move, U.S. stresses need for due process in Maria Ressa case)

“No person is an island in today’s global society; the deprivation of one journalist’s freedom limits access to information for us all,” they added.

Ressa graduated from the university in 1986.

Among the distinguished alumni who appended their names were the top editors of 3 major US publications: ProPublica editor-in-chief and former New York Times investigative chief Steve Engelberg, The New Yorker editor David Remnick, and TIME magazine editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal.

They were joined by two top-ranking former White House officials: Mike McCurry, former US president Bill Clinton’s spokesperson, and Chris Lu, former US president Barack Obama’s senior aide.

Former US Federal Reserve vice chairman Alan Blinder, former US ambassador to Unesco Crystal Nix Hines, and a leader of the Human Genome Project, Eric Lander, also voiced their support for Ressa.

The Princeton alumni wrote that though many of them have different careers, the shared experience of having practiced or taught journalism in the university allowed them to “understand the importance of intellectual freedom, of the free exchange of ideas, and of the ability to speak truth to power.”

“Those values are what prompt us to speak out on Ressa’s behalf,” they said.

“Our University asks its graduates to dedicate themselves to ‘the service of humanity.’ Ressa has actualized that lofty goal with her tireless advocacy of the fundamental human right of free speech. We are honored to join our names to her cause,” they added.

Across generations: Current students of Princeton likewise echoed the need to stand with Ressa and defend press freedom. They said governments all over the world were challenging this.

In an editorial on Tuesday, February 19, the publication called on the university community to stand with Ressa in her “fearless battle against authoritarian oppression and in preserving the voice of journalism.”

“We believe that journalists everywhere must express their solidarity…. Whether we write for the ‘Prince’ or another campus publication, we can report without fear of reprisal. Today, that right is in question for thousands of journalists, both in the Philippines and beyond,” they said.

The National Bureau of Investigation arrested Ressa last February 13, on account of cyber libel charges, and detained her overnight in its Manila headquarters. Ressa was only able to post bail the following day because Pasay City Metropolitan Trial Court executive judge Allan Ariola refused to process her bail the night of her arrest. (WATCH: Rappler’s cyber libel case in a nutshell)

Ressa is facing a string of cases in the Philippines as the Duterte administration slams Rappler for its critical coverage. International news groups and journalists have condemned the threats to press freedom under Duterte’s watch. (READ: Maria Ressa’s arrest part of broader gov’t campaign, say rights groups

Read the full statements of the Princeton community below:

PRINCETON IN THE SERVICE OF FREE SPEECH

As members of Princeton University’s journalism community, we stand in proud solidarity with alumna Maria Ressa ’86 and call on supporters of democracy everywhere to do the same.

Our careers have taken us in many different directions. But all of us have practiced or taught journalism at Princeton. That shared experience made us understand the importance of intellectual freedom, of the free exchange of ideas, and of the ability to speak truth to power.

Those values are what prompt us to speak out on Ressa’s behalf. Since December, our fellow Princetonian has been detained once and forced to post bail multiple times by the Philippine government, in what has become a clear campaign of intimidation against the investigative journalism she has enabled in her home country.

A veteran Asia correspondent for a number of outlets, including CNN, Ressa founded the online news site Rappler six years ago. Her work has won her honors from her professional peers and from international press freedom organizations. In December, Time magazine named her one of its Persons of the Year. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called her latest arrest “a shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”

Discussing her perilous fight for freedom of speech in her home country, Ressa recently told the Princeton Alumni Weekly: “It’s important to keep raising the alarm when transgressions happen.”

In that spirit, we call upon government officials, policymakers, businesses, and private individuals to use whatever leverage they have to press the Philippine government to cease its harassment of Ressa and the rest of that country’s press. No person is an island in today’s global society; the deprivation of one journalist’s freedom limits access to information for us all.

Our University asks its graduates to dedicate themselves to “the service of humanity.” Ressa has actualized that lofty goal with her tireless advocacy of the fundamental human right of free speech.

We are honored to join our names to her cause.

See the list of all almuni signatories here

‘The Daily Princetonian’ Editorial Board

In solidarity with Maria Ressa ’86

Last week, the Philippine government arrested prominent journalist Maria Ressa ’86, who has in recent years repeatedly investigated President Duterte’s oppressive regime. For her courageous work as a journalist, she now faces persecution under a thinly veiled charge of “cyber-libel.”

Ressa has endured state-sanctioned intimidation before. As founder of the prominent online news platform Rappler, she has uncovered corruption, drug trafficking, and other illicit activity within the Philippine government. In recognition of her relentless courage, Time Magazine named Ressa one its “Persons of the Year” of 2018, describing her as one of “The Guardians” in “The War on Truth.”

As Ressa’s own government violates her human right to free speech, we believe that journalists everywhere must express their solidarity. We hope that our fellow Princetonians will join us and stand with Ressa in her fearless battle against authoritarian oppression and in preserving the voice of journalism. To add your name as a signatory to this editorial, please click here.

We affirm the sentiments of the more than 100 alumni, professors, and administrators who have signed “In the Service of Free Speech,” an open letter also published in today’s paper. Their statement calls on the Philippines to end its wrongful persecution of Ressa.

Furthermore, we recognize how fortunate we are to be journalists at Princeton. Whether we write for the ‘Prince’ or another campus publication, we can report without fear of reprisal. Today, that right is in question for thousands of journalists, both in the Philippines and beyond.

These signatures testify to our unwavering belief in the right to free expression, and we stand in support with Ressa. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.