• Urgent Action

Urgent Action Update: Journalist Officially Charged with Cyber Libel (Philippines: UA 20.19)

May 16, 2019

Maria Ressa, human rights defender and executive editor of online news outlet Rappler, was formally charged in court on 14 May for one count of cyber libel. Arrested on 13 February, she was released on bail after spending a night in jail. A month later, on 29 March, she was again arrested for allegedly violating the Philippines’ Anti-Dummy Law, which limits mass media ownership to Filipinos and Filipino-owned corporations. Ressa is also facing four counts of alleged tax-related violations for using financial mechanisms that Ressa argued are not taxable as these do not generate taxable income. Rappler has been a consistent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration, and Ressa’s arrest and prosecution appear to be part of a broader campaign to silence critics of the government.

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Menardo I. Guevarra, Secretary Department of Justice DOJ Building, Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila, 1000, Philippines Phone: (+632) 523 8482 to 98 Email: [email protected]
H.E. Jose Manuel G. Romualdez Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines 1600 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036 Phone: 202 467 9300, 202 467 9366 Fax: 202 467 9417 Email: [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @PhilippinesUSA Salutation: Dear Ambassador
Dear Secretary Guevarra: I am writing to express my dismay at the continuing persecution of Maria Ressa, executive editor of news outlet Rappler, over allegations of cyber libel as well as violations of the Philippine’s Anti-Dummy Law. She was arrested twice in February and March, on what appear to be politically-motivated charges. Tax-related charges were also brought against Maria Ressa and her company, Rappler Holdings Corp., in December 2018. All these charges remain pending in court. Rappler has consistently drawn attention to the deadly reality of the ‘war on drugs,’ and the thousands of unlawful killings of poor and marginalized people perpetrated in its name. Its persistence in documenting these abuses has attracted the wrath of the Philippine authorities. Maria Ressa currently faces eight active court cases initiated since January 2018, after the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission tried to shut Rappler down. Rappler, its directors, and staff are facing 11 active court cases in total. I urge your office to act swiftly to uphold and protect the freedom of the press. Specifically, I urge you to drop the above charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler, which appear to be solely motivated by political interests; end the harassment of the media, journalists, and critics of the Duterte administration, and take measures to guarantee their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Thank you for your kind attention. Sincerely, ADDITIONAL RESOURCES