EU hits Ressa verdict, urges PH to protect free press

The European Union (EU) on Tuesday, June 16, called on the Philippines to protect press freedom, as it expressed concern that the guilty verdict of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa raised "serious doubts" over the rule of law in the country. 

The European Union External Action Service (EEAS) sought to remind the Philippines it was its obligation to do so as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 of the covenant “enshrines the right to freedom of expression.”

The EEAS is the EU’s diplomatic service carrying out its foreign and security policy.

"The conviction of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos by a Manila Regional Trial Court on 15 June, which is open to appeal, raises serious doubts over the respect for freedom of expression as well as for the rule of law in the Philippines," the EEAS said in a statement Tuesday night. 

"We expect the Philippines, like all countries, to uphold its international human rights obligations and protect and promote fundamental freedoms," it added. 

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa on Monday, June 15, sentenced to jail Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr to at least 6 months and 1 day up to a maximum of 6 years for cyber libel, in a trial widely seen as a test case for press freedom in the Philippines. 

The case is the latest in a string of attacks against the media seen under the Duterte administration in the most high-profile case filed by the government against individual journalists. (READ: After verdict on Maria Ressa, world puts Duterte on trial

The EU said it will stand up for press freedom. 

"Freedom of opinion and expression, online and offline, are essential parts of any democracy worldwide. The European Union will always stand up for these fundamental rights," it said.  

Ressa’s verdict has put in the global spotlight the state of democracy in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration has moved to crack down on independent media such as Rappler, ABS-CBN, and other news outlets.  

United Nations Special Rapporteurs and global figures, including former United States secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton have backed Ressa, calling out the conviction as an attack on democracy. 

International media groups and journalists likewise called on governments around the world to condemn Ressa’s verdict. (READ: Why democracies should push back vs Maria Ressa verdict

Any thing less, Australian journalist Peter Greste – a former Al-Jazeera correspondent who was imprisoned for a year in Egypt – said "will be a very clear signal not just to the Philippines but to other states that are limiting press freedom across the region…that they can crack down on journalists with relative impunity, that there is no big price to pay." – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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