Philippines: Cyber-libel charges against Maria Ressa dismissed
A global coalition supporting Filipino journalist Maria Ressa has welcomed the dismissal of cyber-libel charges against the Rappler CEO and founder. It is the second spurious charge against Ressa to be dropped in just two months. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the #HoldTheLine coalition call for all remaining charges to be immediately dropped and the endless pressure against Ressa and Rappler to be ceased.
In a hearing on August 10, a Manila court dismissed the case “with prejudice” after the complainant, college professor Ariel Pineda, informed the court he no longer wished to pursue the cyber-libel claim against Ressa and Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong. The move follows the dismissal on June 1 of a separate spurious cyber-libel case brought by businessman Wilfredo Keng, also “with prejudice” after Keng indicated he did not wish to continue to pursue the claim.
The #HTL steering committee said: “We welcome the overdue withdrawal of this trumped-up charge against Maria Ressa, which was the latest in a cluster of cases intended to silence her independent reporting. We call for the remaining charges against Ressa and Rappler to be dropped without further delay, and other forms of pressure against them immediately ceased.”
Ressa was convicted on a prior spurious cyberlibel charge in June 2020, based on a complaint made by Wilfredo Keng in connection with Rappler’s reporting on his business activities. If the charge is not overturned on appeal, Ressa faces a possible six years in prison. Ressa and Rappler are also facing six other charges, including criminal tax charges; if convicted on all of these, Ressa could be looking at many years cumulatively in prison.
The #HTL coalition, of which the IFJ is a member, continues to urge supporters around the world to add their voices to a continuous online protest that will stream until the charges against Ressa and Rappler are dropped, and to don a #HTL mask in solidarity. The joint #HTL petition also remains open for signature.
The NUJP welcomes the dismissal of the cyber libel case against Maria Ressa and journalist, Rambo Talabong, but noted again that this was just one of many cases filed against her and Rappler.
NUJP Chairperson, Jonathan De Santos said: “While this is a welcome development, libel and cyber libel remain a threat to press freedom and to media workers. We join in their relief that the case has been dismissed and join them as well in the continuing call to decriminalize libel. That someone can be jailed for a story is a throwback to colonial times and is incompatible with the freedoms of the press and of speech that are essential to democracy.”
The IFJ said: “The dismissal of the cyber libel charge against Maria Ressa is the right step forward for journalist rights in the Philippines, however, the IFJ calls for the government to drop the remaining charges and to allow Ressa to report without fear of harassment or arrest.”
Note: The #HTL Coalition comprises more than 80 organisations around the world.
Image – Philippine journalist Maria Ressa speaks to members of the media as she arrives to a court in Manila on March 4, 2021. Credit: Maria Tan / AFP