By Peter Uzoho
The International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria, has called on the Government of Philippines to immediately free a famous international journalist, Editor of Rappler and member of IPI Executive Board, Ms Maria Ressa, who is currently under trial over alleged cyber libel suit.
The Philippines Manila Regional Trial Court will today deliver a ruling in a cyber libel prosecution against Ressa.
The IPI in a petition written to the Ambassador Extraordinary/Plenipotentiary, Embassy of the Republic of Philippines in Nigeria, Mr. Alex Lamadrid, dated June 12, 2020, urged Lamadrid to prevail on the government of his country to withdraw all cases against Ressa, and uphold human rights, press freedom and democratic norms.
IPI Nigeria in the petition jointly signed by the Chairman of its Nigerian National Committee, Mr. Kabiru Yusuf; and Nigeria’s representative in the IPI Executive Board in Vienna, Wada Maida, said “we are deeply alarmed that this case appears to be based on a trumped-up indictment, in which the law has been applied retroactively to charge and intimidate Ms. Ressa.”
The IPI said it appeared that the government of Philippines did not tolerate criticism of its actions, adding that it was dismayed that the government had filed as many as nine cases against Ressa in a blatant attempt to silence her and shut down Rappler.
It said those legal cases, which were only aimed at criminalising Ressa’s reporting and carry combined sentences of more than 100 years in prison, included two libel prosecutions, two criminal cases alleging foreign ownership in Rappler and investigations of old tax returns.
According to the petition, “we are aware that the cyber libel case is based on an investigative report that Rappler published on 29 May 2012 involving the former chief justice Renato Corona and a businessman.
“The businessman filed a libel complaint with the National Bureau of Investigations’ (NIB) cybercrime division in 2017 based on Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which became law four months after the story was published.
“Initially, in 2018 the NIB decided not to pursue the complaint, but the Justice Ministry reopened the case, applying the law retrospectively. Ms. Ressa was arrested on 13 February 2019 and had to spend time in detention before being released on bail.”
IPI stated that the case had attracted international attention and criticism, saying, the United States’ Senate had described the persecution of Ressa as part of a pattern of “weaponizing the rule of law” to repress independent media in the Philippines.
It added that top diplomats of Canada and the United Kingdom had similarly criticized the harassment of Ressa.
“The Nigerian National Committee stands in solidarity with our esteemed colleague, Maria Ressa, a journalist of the highest calibre.
“Your excellency, we urge you to press upon your government to withdraw all cases against Ms. Ressa, and uphold human rights, press freedom and democratic norms,” IPI further said.