U.S. State Dept, ambassador 'concerned' by Ressa verdict, call for free speech
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The United States on Tuesday, June 16, hit the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr as it called on the Philippine government to uphold the freedom of the press.
"The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the U.S. and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press," the US State Department said in a statement.
We are concerned by the trial court’s verdict against Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos. We hope this case is quickly resolved in a way that reinforces our long-shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press.— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) June 16, 2020
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim echoed the statement a day after on Wednesday, June 17.
We are very concerned by the verdict against Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and call for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the U.S. and Philippines’ shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press.— Ambassador Sung Kim (@USAmbManila) June 17, 2020
Before this, the US issued a rare statement stressing the need for due process after Ressa’s arrest over the same cyber libel case in February 2019.
Aside from the US, the European Union called on the Philippines to uphold its obligation to protect press freedom, saying the conviction raised "serious doubts over the rule of law in the country."
Why this matters. On June 15, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 handed down a guilty verdict against Ressa and Santos, in a trial widely seen as a test case for press freedom in the Philippines.
The case is the latest in a string of attacks against the media seen under the Duterte administration, and is the most high-profile case filed by the government against individual journalists. (READ: After verdict on Maria Ressa, world puts Duterte on trial)
On Twitter, former foreign secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton backed Ressa, calling the verdict an attack on democracy.
US Senators Edward Markey, Patrick Leahy, and Dick Durbin likewise joined voices supporting Ressa as they called on the Duterte government to "drop all politically motivated charges" against the veteran journalist, Rappler, and journalists in the Philippines.
Ressa’s verdict has put in the international spotlight the state of democracy in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration has moved to crack down on independent media such as Rappler, ABS-CBN, and other news outlets.
International media groups and journalists likewise called on governments to condemn Ressa’s verdict, which has been viewed as an international test for press freedom and respect for the rule of law. – Rappler.com
(Editor's note: An earlier instance of the third paragaph in this report said Maria Ressa's arrest over the same libel case was in February 2020. This has been adjusted to the correct year.)