THE United Nations Rights Office has called for an independent and thorough review of all charges against Rappler chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa even as it urged the Philippine judiciary to safeguard their own independence.
The UNHRO also called on the judiciary to throw out cases that are “clearly politically motivated or are not in line with international human rights standards, including freedom of opinion and expression.”
“Any charges that appear to be aimed at preventing journalists from undertaking their profession, thereby depriving the public of their right to information, should be dropped immediately,” reads part of a Feb. 15 statement released by Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, and the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, have all spoken out recently in defense of Rappler.
Colville said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights fully endorses the positions taken by the UN special rapporteurs.
“We are very concerned about the arrest on libel charges of Maria Ressa, the CEO of the independent news outlet Rappler in the Philippines, which appears to be the latest element in a pattern of intimidation of a media outlet that has fiercely guarded its independence and its right to conduct in-depth investigations and to criticize the authorities. While Ms. Ressa was released on bail on Thursday, the charges are still pending,” the UNHRO statement reads in part.
It noted that Ressa, who has frequently been critical of President Duterte and his administration’s policies, has previously faced charges of tax evasion as well as attempts to revoke Rappler’s license to operate.
The UNHRO said,“These have been widely viewed as efforts to silence Rappler’s independent investigative reporting and critical voice, by misusing judicial and administrative powers, including libel laws. Rappler journalists have also allegedly been threatened with physical harm.”
The UNHRO said attempts to intimidate independent news sources have a serious effect on freedom of opinion and expression in general, and the rights of journalists to carry out their professional duties safely and without fear of reprisal are clear under international law.