UN envoy slams Ressa conviction, 'criminalization of journalists' in Philippines

·Senior Editor
·2 min read
Handcuffed hands (left) with a pen held by the right hand and President Bongbong Marcos (right) who was called on by a UN envoy to end the
A United Nations (UN) envoy has called on President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to end the "criminilaization of journalists" in the Philippines. (PHOTO: Getty Images/Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

A United Nations envoy has decried the "relentless attack" on Rappler co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, adding that the "criminalization of journalists" for libel impedes public interest reporting.

"Criminal libel law has no place in a democratic country and should be repealed,” said Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan in a statement last Thursday (July 14). "I urge President Marcos to take this opportunity to bring an end to the crackdown on press freedom in the Philippines."

On July 7, the Court of Appeal affirmed Ressa's 2020 libel conviction, alongside that of former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr, in relation to a Rappler article on alleged corruption by the late chief justice Renato Corona. The Court also increased the maximum prison sentence by several months, to 6 years, 8 months and 20 days.

Last month, Rappler was ordered by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to shut down. Ressa is currently facing seven court cases, including the cyber libel conviction, while Rappler faces eight. Their lawyers describe the cases as "state-sponsored legal harassment".

Khan also noted that on June 8, the Philippine National Telecommunications Commission ordered internet providers to restrict access to local news websites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly for allegedly violating anti-terrorism laws. "Authorities have provided no evidence to justify the blockage."

"I am deeply concerned by recent developments in the Philippines to silence independent and investigative journalism in the country," added Khan. She called on the new Marcos administration to end the criminalisation of libel, withdraw the charges against Ressa, reverse the decisions against Rappler and other online outlets and promptly investigate attacks and killings of journalists.

Despite broad criticism from different progressive and human rights organizations, former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that his request, and the NTC’s action, to block access to the websites of different organizations and alternative news sites is justified citing intelligence information linking these organizations to the Communist Party of the Philippines–New Peoples’ Army–National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

On June 8, activist groups and alternative media outfits criticized the issuance of a memorandum by theNTC directing internet service providers to block the website of several organizations allegedly “affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”

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