MANILA - The United Nations Human Rights Office has expressed concern over the arrest of Rappler chief Maria Ressa for cyber libel.
In a statement released Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said Ressa's arrest seems to be the latest 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."
"Maria 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. 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," he said.
Colville also said such attempts to intimidate independent news sources has a serious effect on freedom of opinion and expression, adding the rights of journalists to do their duties safely are clear under international law.
The UN Human Rights Office, likewise, called for a review of all the charges filed against Ressa and other media professionals in the Philippines.
"The UN Human Rights Office calls for an independent and thorough review of all charges against Ms. Ressa and other media professionals in the Philippines, and urges the Philippines judiciary to safeguard their own independence by throwing out cases that are clearly politically motivated or are not in line with international human rights standards, including freedom of opinion and expression," Colville said.
"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," he added.
Ressa, who was named one of TIME Magazine "Persons of the Year" in 2018 for fighting for the "truth," was arrested last Wednesday over a 2012 Rappler article which its subject, businessman Wilfredo Keng, claimed was "clearly defamatory."
She was released after posting a P100,000 bail on Thursday.
Ressa's arrest for cyber libel was just one of six arrest warrants served on her in 2 months. She said the government was "weaponizing the law" against its critics.
The cyber libel case against Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr. stemmed from a report about Keng's alleged ties to the late ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.