South East Asia: Journalists unions call to drop all charges against Maria Ressa

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa pleaded not guilty on her 5th tax case before a Pasig Regional Trial Court on Wednesday, July 22. The International Federation Journalists (IFJ) together with South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) calls the authorities in the Philippines to drop all cases against Maria Ressa and Rappler.

Maria Ressa speaks during a press conference after attending the court's verdict promulgation in Manila on June 15, 2020. Credit: Ted Aljibe/AFP

Ressa and Rappler as well as the newsroom’s directors and a former researcher are facing at least seven cases as of January 30, 2020. Ressa has been accused for a slew charges, including fraud and tax evasion. She was arrested twice and has posted bail eight times in a three month period. The total number of cases were dropped after a Pasig trial court judge in October 2019 ordered a reinvestigation of the two cases citing that the cases were filed in “due haste”. In November 2019, a Quezon city prosecutor has dismissed libel complaint against Ressa and reporter Rambo Talabong due to a lack of probable cause.

On June 15, Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr were convicted by judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa in the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC), sentencing Ressa and Santos to jail. The tax-related charges are connected to alleged foreign media ownership breaches designed to shut Rappler down. Together with the criminal libel conviction, which is currently under appeal, and a second pending libel action, convictions in all these cases could theoretically lead to a century in jail for Ressa.

The ongoing cases against Ressa and Rappler are endangering press freedom in the country. Authorities are using its powers to silence the media. Two weeks ago, the Philippines House of Representatives committee voted to deny the renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcasting franchise. The continued threats against press freedom have sparked global outcry. IFJ is a part of the #HoldTheLine Coalition which demands “the Philippines authorities drop a barrage of bogus tax and foreign ownership cases” against Ressa and Rappler.

SEAJU said:“This is nothing but the continuation of the state's persecution of the independent media, as it did with ABS-CBN, as it seeks to silence criticism and dissent.”

The IFJ said: “The government’s ‘stern action’ will decrease transparency, ultimately endangering society amid the global pandemic when access to independent and timely information is vital. The IFJ urges the government of the Philippines to review the directive, drop all charges and acknowledge the importance of press freedom, accurate reporting and the public’s right to know.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram