MANILA, Philippines – Eleven Nobel Peace Prize winners urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to ensure justice and a fair trial for Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa, their fellow Nobel laureate, who faces several charges that may land her in jail for a lifetime.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureates said in a letter released to media on Tuesday, January 17, that Ressa has been subjected to a “vicious and widespread campaign of hate and even threats on her life on social media, particularly on Facebook.”
“Such campaigns have become far too common on social media, and have become dangerous tools to provoke violence and weaken democracy,” they said.
Ressa has faced criminal charges for alleged tax evasion, violation of the anti-dummy law, and cyber libel, which she, Rappler, and her supporters believe to be politically motivated. They were all filed during the previous administration under Rodrigo Duterte.
“We hope to see the Philippines leave the mistakes of its past behind. We ask you to assist in bringing about a rapid resolution to the unjust charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler,” the Nobel laureates said.
The following were signatories of the open letter:
- Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2021 (received the Nobel with Ressa)
- Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2022
- Jan Rachinsky, head of Russian human rights group Memorial, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2022
- Natalia Pinchuk, wife of Ales Bialiatski, political prisoner in Belarus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2022
- Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2011
- Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni journalist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2011
- Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2005
- Jody Williams, founder of International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1997
- Oscar Arias Sanchez, former Costa Rican president, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1987
- Ira Helfand, co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1985
- Mairead Maguire, co-founder of Women for Peace, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1976
On Wednesday, January 18, a day after the Nobel laureates’ letter was released, the Court of Tax Appeals acquitted Ressa and Rappler of tax evasion charges.
After the acquittal, Ressa said that there was still more work to do.
“Thank you, Court of Tax Appeals, our shareholders who stood by us during the darkest times – and were themselves harassed, our partners who stuck their necks out, and for all Filipinos who believe in the values that keep a vibrant democracy alive,” she said.
Supported internationally, vilified at home
In their open letter to Marcos, the laureates said they supported Marcos in his goal to unite and heal the nation, as well as his efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the Philippines.
“It is our hope that your plans will include strengthening one of the bedrocks of global democracy, a free and independent press. The free media, increasingly under threat by autocrats and would-be autocrats, is rightfully fiercely protected by democracies across the globe,” they said.
The laureates reminded Marcos that Ressa has become the international face of the free press in the Philippines. Her credentials also brought her international recognition even before she co-founded Rappler.
“She is an asset to the nation, and an inspiration to her fellow journalists and democracy builders around the world,” they said.
But, at home, apart from the “vicious and widespread campaign of hate,” the Nobel winners said that Ressa’s arrests, indictments, and possible prison sentences were “political persecution.”
One of Ressa’s charges for cyber libel, they said, “[opened] the door to unchecked harassment and imprisonment by government officials of journalists, columnists, and virtually any online critics of the Philippine government.”
The laureates appealed to Marcos to ensure justice for Ressa, and to initiate negotiations to clarify Rappler’s issues as a company. “The welcome result would be a strengthening of the rule of law and a rebirth of respect for the fundamental pillars of democracy in the Philippines,” they said.
Ressa and Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Read the full open letter here. – Rappler.com