GENEVA (16 June 2020) – The UN independent expert on freedom of expression has condemned a Philippine court’s conviction of journalist Maria Ressa, saying the nation’s higher courts had a responsibility to reverse the verdict.
“The conviction marks a new low in the Philippines’ protection of the freedom of expression and, in particular, the ability of an independent media to function in the country,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The conviction, issued on 15 June under the Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, is subject to appeal. The reporters each face up to six years in prison.
“The law used to convict Ms. Ressa and the journalist who authored the article which led to their prosecution is plainly inconsistent with the Philippines’ obligations under international law. I urge the higher courts to reverse this conviction and correct this injustice,” Kaye said.
“Ms. Ressa has been targeted for years by the government, and this conviction should be seen in light of the attacks on her, her journalism, and on her media outlet, Rappler.com,” Kaye said. “The higher courts now have an opportunity, if not a responsibility, to ensure her protection and the promotion of independent media in the country.”
Kaye said the government should recognise that it is long past time to reform its laws on defamation and so-called cyber-libel.
“Any criminalisation of journalism, as took place here, serves only to defeat the ability of journalists to inform the public, to ensure open and rigorous public debate,” Kaye said. “As the UN has noted repeatedly, offline rights apply just as equally online, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act fails to recognise this fundamental principle of contemporary human rights law.”
The UN expert is following the case closely and he is in a dialogue with the relevant authorities.
* Professor David Kaye, as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.