Int’l press groups: Charges against Ressa ‘politically motivated’
MANILA, Philippines — World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum wrote a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, saying the cyberlibel charge against Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa was “politically motivated.”
“We are seriously concerned that the charges are politically motivated and form part of a systematic campaign by the government to use the law as a weapon to silence Rappler’s reporting, which has often been critical of your presidency,” the international press groups wrote in a joint letter to Duterte.
The letter was released after Ressa was arrested on Wednesday by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier approved the filing of cyberlibel against Ressa in relation to a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
The case stemmed from a Rappler article titled “CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman” published in 2012. The “CJ” being referred in the article was the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was under an impeachment trial at that time.
In that article published on May 29, 2012, Rappler cited “an intelligence report” that claimed that Keng was “under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in illegal activities, namely ‘human trafficking and drug smuggling.”
In Keng’s complaint against Rappler, it said the article “contained malicious imputations of crimes, with bad intentions, purposely to malign, dishonor and discredit my character and good reputation” of the businessman.
Writing Duterte, WAN-IFRA said, “We would also like to remind you that bringing charges for a crime that was not enacted at the time of the alleged infraction is not only a legal absurdity, it also risks rendering the Cybercrime Prevention Act unconstitutional, as it would become an ‘ex post facto’ law.”
The story was published on May 29, 2012, while the Cybercrime Act was only enacted in to law on September 12, 2012 and took effect only on October 3, 2012.
However, Rappler updated the article on Feb. 19, 2014, which the Department of Justice said made the article “actionable.”
“We respectfully call on you to take all possible steps to ensure that the NBI follows the advice of its own lawyers and withdraws the indictment for cyber libel,” WAN-IFRA and World Editors Forum said.
“We also ask you to halt the apparent persecution of Rappler and Maria Ressa so that they may continue to play an active role in civic debate and carry out the watchdog function of the press,” it added.
WAN-IFRA and World Editors Forum represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. /cbb
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