Philippines: End harassment of prominent Duterte critic Maria Ressa

Responding to the news that Maria Ressa, executive editor of news outlet Rappler, has posted bail following charges of tax evasion, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:

“The Duterte administration is singling out one of its most potent critics with politically motivated charges. Rappler’s fearless journalism has helped to expose the deadly reality of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ – and the thousands of unlawful killings of poor and marginalized people perpetrated in its name.

“Maria Ressa is a multi-award-winning journalist. The President and his spokespersons have consistently targeted Rappler for its reporting and Duterte has personally banned Maria Ressa from attending press briefings at the presidential palace.

“Authorities should end this harassment and let Maria Ressa and her team do their job as reporters. Following the arrest and detention of Senator Leila de Lima in February 2017, another leading critic of the murderous ‘war on drugs’, this is just the latest appalling step in this government’s chilling campaign of repression, obstruction and intimidation.”

Background

Rappler has been a consistent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration, publishing detailed investigations into some of the thousands of extrajudicial executions committed by police and other unknown armed persons during drug-related operations.

Ressa has recently received a prestigious press freedom award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. In February, a Duterte spokesman said that President Duterte himself had ordered presidential security staff to bar Rappler reporter Pia Ranada and Ressa from entering the presidential palace.

An arrest warrant was issued after Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings, of which she is the president, were charged with violating the tax code in 2015 in relation to funds received through Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), a financial instrument that allow foreigners to invest in a Filipino company. In January 2018, the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) temporarily revoked Rappler's registration on the basis that it had violated foreign ownership rules in relation to the same funding.

Amnesty denounced the decision at the time. The Court of Appeals has since ruled that Rappler and its donors had operated in good faith, and that the revocation order was excessive.