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MANILA, Philippines – The Norwegian Nobel Committee and other groups expressed support for Rappler CEO and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. after the Philippines’ Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed their cyber libel conviction.
“The conviction is based on Maria Ressa’s criticism on how power is used and sometimes abused in the Philippines. The criticism voiced through Rappler is well within the freedom of expression in a democratic society. I am gravely concerned that Maria Ressa is being prosecuted for exercising her rights of expression,” Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said in a press statement on Friday, July 8.
“[Maria] Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression,” Reiss-Andersen added.
In October 2021, Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Reiss-Andersen added that Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize award is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information.
“This conviction of cyber libel underlines the importance of a free, independent, and fact-based journalism, which serves to protect against abuse of power, lies, and war propaganda,” she said.
Other media workers and groups shared the same views. In a report by LiCAS News, University of the Philippines journalism professor Danilo Arao said the CA decision is “most unfortunate as it is a blow to press freedom.”
Acknowledging Rappler’s recourse to elevate it to the highest court of the land, Arao hoped that the Supreme Court would “help create an atmosphere conducive to journalism practice.” He added that the case of Ressa and Santos should be a wake-up call for the campaign to junk the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The steering committee of the Hold the Line Coalition – comprised of over 80 organizations around the world – also called for the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines.
“This decision is bitterly disappointing and it sends a disturbing signal about the direction of justice under the new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.,” it said in a press statement penned by Julie Posetti of the International Center for Journalists, Gypsy Guillén Kaiser of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders.
They also recalled the recent decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in relation to Rappler. Two days before Rodrigo Duterte stepped down from the presidency, the SEC affirmed its decision to revoke Rappler’s certificates of incorporation. Rappler will be exhausting legal remedies all the way up to the Supreme Court.
“These decisions, coming in close succession, represent a serious escalation in the ongoing harassment and persecution of Ressa and Rappler and they must be forcefully challenged. Press freedom is under fierce attack in the Philippines and this criminal cyber libel case is emblematic of the country’s democratic decline,” the coalition committee said.
Meanwhile, College Editors Guild of the Philippines Alliance Officer Melanie Joy Feranil said that the cyber libel charge is part of the legacy of the Duterte administration, and is expected to be continued by the new administration.
“We can still see footprints of the Duterte administration’s crackdown against the press. As early as now, it is clear that this will be inherited by no less than notorious press killer Marcos regime,” she said.
“Just like what we have seen in the past, libel charges are only meant to sow fear and intimidation to the press. It is nothing but a legalized repressive state apparatus,” Feranil added.
The International Press Institute, a global network of editors, journalists and media executives, also expressed support for Ressa and Rappler.
“We continue to view this case as targeted harassment to silence Maria. The IPI global network stands by her and @rapplerdotcom,” the network said in a tweet. Ressa is a board member of the IPI.
On Saturday, July 9, the Asia chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA-Asia) also expressed “grave concern” over the CA decision which not only affirmed Ressa’s and Santos’ conviction, but also lengthened the possible maximum jail time by eight months.
“AAJA-Asia strongly condemns this sustained campaign of legal persecution against journalists and calls on the new government to drop the charges and foster a better environment for independent media. We also echo Rappler’s call for the Supreme Court to take a second look at the constitutionality of cyber libel – these are among the reasons why the Philippines has fallen to 147th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index this year,” AAJA-Asia said.
“AAJA-Asia has always unequivocally stood in full support of Ressa, Rappler and all journalists around the region who face harassment and threats in the course of their work – and call on our communities to do the same,” they added. – Rappler.com