U.N. rights office: Maria Ressa arrest latest in ‘pattern of intimidation’ vs Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over the arrest of Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa over cyber libel charges. 

Rupert Colville, spokesperson of UN Rights chief Michelle Bachelet, relayed in a message that the arrest “appears to be the latest element in a pattern of intimidation of a media outlet that has fiercely guarded its independence and its right to conduct in-depth investigations and to criticize the authorities.”  

Ressa was arrested on February 13 and stayed the night at the National Bureau of Investigation after the Pasay City Regional Trial Court refused to process her bail. 

The case stemmed from a story published in May 2012 or 4 months before the law she allegedly violated was enacted. (READ: Despite NBI flip-flop, DOJ to indict Rappler for cyber libel)

Colville calls on the Philippine government to conduct an “independent and thorough review of all charges” against Ressa and other media professionals. 

He also urged the Department of Justice to dismiss cases that are “clearly politically motivated or are not in line with international human rights standards, including freedom of opinion and expression.” 

“Any charges that appear to be aimed at preventing journalists from undertaking their profession, thereby depriving the public of their right to information, should be dropped immediately,” Colville said.

Aside from the cyber libel case, Ressa faces 5 tax cases and an alleged violation of the anti-dummy law.

The charges are not the only instances of harassment and intimidation against Ressa and Rappler. Its reporters and correspondents have also been barred from covering all presidential events across the country. (TIMELINE: Malacañang's evolving statements on Rappler ban) 

“Attempts to intimidate or muzzle independent news sources has a serious effect on freedom of opinion and expression in general, and the rights of journalists to carry out their professional duties safely and without fear of reprisal are clear under international law,” Colville said.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, also expressed his indignation, describing the arrrest a "very serious escalation" of media harassment.  Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.