International community supports Ressa as journalist faces charges filed by gov’t

Photo: Maria Ressa Facebook.

The international community has expressed support for embattled journalist Maria Ressa who is currently facing multiple cases filed by the Philippine government, an act perceived by some as an attack on press freedom in the country.

David Kaye, the United Nations’ (UN) rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, yesterday released a statement asking the government to drop its charges against Ressa and the news website she has founded, Rappler.

In a statement that appeared on Kaye’s Twitter account and the website of the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, he said that the charges were being used by the government as a censorship tool.

He said: “In light of past measures taken against Rappler, I am concerned that the charges of tax evasion constitute an attempt to silence the news outlet’s independent reporting. This is a serious threat against independent and investigative journalism in the Philippines and will have implications beyond its borders.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth called the charges against Ressa false. He posted on his Twitter account yesterday: “The latest weapon used by Philippine President [Rodrgio] Duterte to fight journalists who dare to criticize his deadly ‘drug war’ is (sic) trumped-up charges and an arrest warrant. Here [is] Maria Ressa of @RapplerDotCom holding hers.”

Kaye and Roth’s statements come a day after Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland expressed concern for Ressa’s safety.

Freeland wrote on her Twitter account: “Canada remains deeply concerned for the security and safety of @mariaressa in the #Philippines. The harassment and intimidation of journalists have no place in [a] democracy. We call for due process to be respected and stand with all journalists working in defence of the truth.”

Ressa appeared at the Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) today for her arraignment for a tax evasion case filed against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

However, Rappler reported that Pasig RTC’s Judge Danilo Buemio granted Rappler’s motion to suspended the arraignment and tentatively moved it to Feb. 6, 2019.

Ressa’s lawyer Francis Lim said: “What the court did today was to avoid a situation where there is hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecution of innocent people.”

Ressa is out on bail after the Pasig RTC found probable cause that Rappler allegedly failed to give the correct information in its tax return in 2015.

Rappler said that the case in the Pasig RTC is just one of the five cases filed by the DOJ against the news organization. According to the DOJ, the holding affiliate of Rappler, Rappler Holdings Corporation, allegedly did not declare a profit of PHPP162.41 million from the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

Ressa is also being investigated for alleged cyber libel and for allegedly violating the anti-dummy law.

President Duterte has a testy relationship with Rappler, going so far as to order the Malacañang Palace’s Internal House Affairs Office to ban Ressa and reporter Pia Ranada from entering the Palace.

Duterte even called Rappler “a fake news outlet” after it published a report about how his special assistant, Christopher “Bong” Go, allegedly got involved in the selection of suppliers of the Philippine Navy’s Combat Management System.

Despite the president’s obvious disdain for Rappler, Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo denied that the government had a hand in Ressa’s mounting legal woes. He said that Duterte is too busy to persecute the journalist. 

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