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REGION: Timorese journalists protest outside Philippine embassy over Ressa arrest


Timor-Leste Press Union president Francisco Belo condemning the arrest and charge of "cyber libel" against Rappler publisher Maria Ressa. Image: Antonio Dasiparu/TLPU

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Item: 10299

DILI (Timor-Leste Press Union/Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): The Timor-Leste Press Union has protested in front of the Philippine Embassy in the capital Dili in solidarity with indicted Journalist Maria Ressa over her “persecution” and in defence of freedom of the press.

Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa is known and respected for her work as a journalist in bringing the plight of the suffering people of Timor-Leste under a quarter century of Indonesian occupation prior to renewed independence in 1999.

The Timorese journalist protest was broadcast by the public broadcaster RTTL.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the leading Philippine national dailies, reported today that Ressa had accused President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration of acting like a dictatorship and using the law as a weapon to muzzle dissent.

READ MORE: Rappler’s Maria Ressa sees threat to democracy

“What we’re seeing … is a level of impunity that I frankly haven’t seen, and I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 some odd years,” Ressa said after posting bail in a Manila court on Thursday.

Ressa, who was selected by Time magazine as one of its Persons of the Year last year, is the head of Rappler Inc., which has aggressively covered Duterte’s administration.

She was arrested Wednesday over a libel complaint from a businessman. Duterte’s government claimed the arrest was a normal step in response to the complaint and had nothing to do with press freedom.

Universities condemn arrest
University leaders and student groups in the Philippines have also condemned the arrest of Ressa, saying schools must defend the truth and press freedom, reports Rappler.

Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) president Father Ramon Jose Villarin and De La Salle Philippines president Brother Armin Luistro urged the universities’ communities to speak out and defend democracy.

“The university shares Maria’s challenge to shine the light on power and be brave in witnessing to the truth. Veritas liberabit vos (The truth will set you free),” Villarin said.

“Lies and false promises of unbridled power, when met with silence, will only make us a nation of slaves,” he added.

Luistro urged Lasallians to “vote with their feet” in the upcoming 2019 elections and make their voices heard to defend press freedom.

Ressa was arrested in connection with a cyber libel case filed by the Justice Department.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Student Council and ADMU publication The Guidon denounced the arrest, saying students would continue to hold the line with Ressa and Rappler.

‘Make our voices heard’
Here are the statements of support from various schools:

Brother Armin Luistro FSC, president of De La Salle Philippines:

“Let’s give our all out support as Lasallians to Rappler. Let’s defend press freedom. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s vote with our feet and stand with Maria Ressa!”

Father Jose Ramon Villarin SJ, president of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU):

“In my statement of 13 October 2017, I had occasion to ‘call on everyone in the community to defend our democratic institutions” and to state that “[t]his call to defend our democratic institutions is not even a matter of political partisanship or persuasion. It is a call that is borne out of our conviction about what is right and just and truly democratic.’

“While such pronouncements then pertained to government institutions in particular, the same should be said with regard to freedom of speech, of expression and of the press. No less than the Philippine Constitution recognises ‘the vital role of communication and information in nation-building’ (Constitution, Art. II. Sec. 24) and ‘the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press’ (Constitution, Art. III, Sec. 4).

“There are several rights and freedoms necessary for a democratic society to function. The right to life, the right to due process, the sweet freedoms of speech and of the press – all of these were once considered sacred, inviolable. But as of late these have been called into question; mocked, attacked, degraded.

Rappler, and its brave leader Maria Ressa, have consistently held the line against the erosion of these liberties. It is journalists like her who keep us all informed about the state of our nation, covering different areas of our national life, contributing immeasurably to the wealth and value of our country.

“Too often these days, it is they who wage daily battles against fake news, expose corruption and bring to light illegal practices and wrongdoing by those who lead us.”

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Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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