Washington (June 15, 2020) – Today, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) released the following joint statement regarding the conviction in the Philippines of journalist Maria Ressa. Ressa, founder of the news platform Rappler, and Reynaldo Santos Jr., former researcher-writer, were found guilty of “cyber libel” and may be imprisoned for up to six years. In an apparent effort to silence her, Ressa has been arrested multiple times after publishing articles that exposed the Duterte government’s role in extrajudicial killings and other abuses during anti-narcotics operations. The charges against Ressa and Rappler appear to be without merit and an effort to intimidate voices that criticize policies and practices of the government. Human Rights Watch called today’s verdict a devastating blow to media freedom in the Philippines.
“Maria Ressa and her colleagues have spoken truth to power through their vital work, and she has shown great courage as the government threatens Rappler, ABS-CBN, and other media organizations,” said Senators Markey, Durbin, and Leahy. “‘Embrace your fear’ is her message to all those around the world inspired by her example. Today we must face our own fear: that one of the oldest democracies in Asia, a United States ally, is abandoning its commitment to fundamental freedoms including freedom of the press.
“This verdict is a travesty of justice, a retroactive and selective application of the law that sets dangerous precedents. It is shocking to see the Philippine government strain to extend its legal reach to target journalists while so many extrajudicial abuses cry out for investigation and prosecution.
“We call on the government to drop all politically motivated charges against Maria Ressa, Rappler, and journalists in the Philippines. At the very least, the defendants must be afforded every opportunity to appeal this decision.”
The Senators previously introduced the bipartisan Senate Resolution 142, later adopted by the Senate, condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of outspoken government critic Senator Leila De Lima and calling on the U.S. government to back human rights defenders and investigative journalists like Maria Ressa.