EU denounces Ressa, Santos guilty verdict in cyber libel case
MANILA, Philippines — The European Union (EU) has denounced the guilty verdict in a cyber libel case against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr., saying it raises “serious doubts” over press freedom and the rule of law in the country.
“The conviction of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos by a Manila Regional Trial Court on 15 June, which is open to appeal, raises serious doubts over the respect for freedom of expression as well as for the rule of law in the Philippines,” the EU External Action Services (EEAS), which serves as the union’s diplomatic service, said in a statement late Tuesday.
“Freedom of opinion and expression, online and offline, are essential parts of any democracy worldwide. The European Union will always stand up for these fundamental rights,” it added.
The EEAS noted that the Philippines is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, among others, “enshrines the right to freedom of expression.”
“We expect the Philippines, like all countries, to uphold its international human rights obligations and protect and promote fundamental freedoms,” the statement further read.
On June 15, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over a case involving businessman Wilfredo Keng.
The subject of the cyber libel case was a 2012 article written by Santos claiming that Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The same article also cited an intelligence report which said Keng had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng filed the cyber libel complaint in 2017 or five years after the article was first posted and three years after it was supposedly re-posted due to typographical error.
Following Ressa and Santos’ guilty verdict, opposition senators and journalism organizations slammed the conviction, with some saying that it sends a “chilling message” against critics of the Duterte administration.
The U.S. also recently expressed concern over the guilty verdict against Ressa and Santos.
“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,” US Department of State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.
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