Charges Against Philippines Journalist Maria Ressa an Affront to Free Expression
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—A second indictment filed by the government of the Philippines against award-winning journalist Maria Ressa, founder and editor of online news outlet Rappler, is an affront to freedom of expression and the charges should be dropped immediately, PEN America said in a statement today.
The new charges this week were filed in connection with a 2012 Rappler article alleging ties between a judge undergoing an impeachment trial and the prominent Filipino businessman Wilfredo Keng. The reporter, Santos Jr, has been indicted along with Rappler Inc. Last month, the National Bureau of Investigation of the Philippines rejected the case because the article in question was published before the enactment of the controversial cyber-libel law under which the complaint was filed. However, this week, the Department of Justice overturned the Bureau’s decision, declaring the case legitimate because updates to the article were made in February 2014. Ressa has already been slapped with tax evasion charges in November 2018, which are widely viewed to be a politically motivated response to Rappler‘s critical coverage of current President Rodrigo Duterte and his war on drugs. She is currently out on bail. Ressa was among the journalists chosen as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in December 2018.
“The latest charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler lack any clear legal basis and represent an overtly politicized attempt to further cow this brave investigative journalist and her colleagues into submission and silence,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “This type of harassment of reporters is toxic to freedom of expression and democracy. We call on the Philippine authorities to cease their legal and administrative intimidation of Ressa and Rappler’s journalists, and to drop the absurd charges against them immediately.”
Ressa’s case reflects the increasingly endangered state of freedom of expression in the Philippines. In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the country fifth worldwide in terms of impunity in killings of journalists. In addition, the legal harassment experienced by Ressa and Rappler is unfortunately a growing trend under the Duterte regime’s targeting of individual media outlets and human rights activists critical of its policies, often through the type of “libel” legislation used as a justification in this week’s charges.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org
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