SPJ urges Philippine government to drop charges against Rappler and Maria Ressa
J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President, 212-283-0843, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists strongly supports journalist Maria Ressa as she battles with the Philippine government of President Rodrigo Duterte. We urge the Philippine government to drop all charges against her.
Ressa and her news website Rappler were charged last week on multiple tax evasion charges, a move that Ressa’s supporters say is part of a wider crackdown on dissent by Duterte’s administration. Ressa, Rappler’s CEO and a former CNN Manila bureau chief, faces a potential 10-year prison term under Philippine tax law. Ressa has called the charges “ridiculous.”
Ressa turned herself in to Philippine authorities on Dec. 3, upon returning from a round-the-world trip to participate in several high-profile journalism events in Paris, Washington and New York. After being fingerprinted and photographed, she was released on bail.
The Philippine government has charged Rappler and Ressa with tax evasion related to a foreign investment by the Omidyar Network, which is owned by American investor Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. The charges essentially treat the investment as if Rappler were a securities dealer rather than a news website. Ressa says that they are in compliance with the tax obligations of a news media company.
Press freedom organizations widely condemn the charges against an independent news site that has published stories and images documenting the thousands of killings of alleged drug users in Duterte's "war on drugs." We view this as a clear threat to use political force against any journalist covering the Philippine administration.
This is part of a rising trend by governments to use both political rhetoric and the courts to threaten freedom of speech and of the press. It is not the first time the Philippine authorities have harassed this news website. The country’s Securities and Exchange Commission temporarily revoked the company’s registration earlier this year. Authorities have banned Rappler’s reporters from covering the country’s presidential palace and referred to the site as “fake news.”
SPJ joins other press freedom groups in urging Philippine authorities to immediately drop the charges. We remind governments and administrations everywhere that journalists will not be silenced despite threats, harassment and intimidation.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.