EU denounces Ressa, Santos conviction; raises doubts over respect for Philippines’ rule of law

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The European Union has denounced the conviction of Filipino journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. on the cyber libel case filed against them by a businessman at the Manila Trial Court.

The European Union External Action Service (EEAS) in a statement on Tuesday said the conviction “raises serious doubts” on the respect for the rule of law in the Philippines.

The EEAS is the EU’s diplomatic service carrying out its foreign and security policy.

“The conviction of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos by a Manila Regional Trial Court on June 15, 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 EEAS statement said.

“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, senior editor and CEO of news website Rappler, and Santos, former writer-researcher of Rappler, 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. (Source: INQUIRER.net)

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