The International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) expresses alarm at the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the conviction of Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Rey Santos Jr on trumped-up charges of cyber libel.
Their conviction in 2020 stemmed from a cyber libel case on a Rappler article published on May 29, 2012, almost five months before the cybercrime law was enacted on October 3. The Department of Justice under then-president Rodrigo Duterte, however, ruled that the story had been updated and remained posted as of Feb. 14, 2014, and approved the filing of charges in 2019.
The court also lengthened the jail time to up to six years, eight months and 20 days or an additional eight months in denying Ressa’s appeal.
After the court decision, Ressa and Rappler experienced an “info ops/mob,” as part of the continuing online hate she has received following Rappler’s critical reporting of the former president’s war on drugs and Duterte openly attacking Ressa and Rappler.
The court’s decision comes over a week after the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission issued a revocation order against Rappler, one of the many legal cases and harassment Rappler endured during the term of Duterte. Both disturbing decisions were released between Duterte’s last day in office and the first few days of the new president, son of dictator, and press freedom killer Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The international media watchdog group, Reporters without Borders, has called Duterte a press freedom “predator.”
The recent developments in Ressa and Rappler’s cases add to growing concerns over press freedom in the Philippines.
Marcos Jr.’s win has raised concerns about the future of media in the country, where journalists were barred from interviewing or covering or roughhoused during his campaign sorties. Marcos Jr. refused to join election debates and only allowed interviews from selected media houses to answer selected questions.
Before the term of Duterte’s appointed officials ended with him, the former National Security Adviser ordered the blocking of independent media websites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly. (Read related statement from IAWRT Philippines here:https://www.facebook.com/Iawrtphil/posts/5463518523707291)
Ressa rightly said that the danger that her and Rappler’s experiences pose if you’re a Filipino is that “this could happen to you, too.” And this could happen anywhere in the world where people keep silent as institutions are being used to silence journalists.
IAWRT will continue to support Maria Ressa, Rappler, journalists, and media outfits that continue to pursue the truth but are persecuted for it.