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Nobel laureate says courts to decide Rappler closure

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa said her Rappler news website was operating “business as usual” yesterday and would let Philippine courts decide on a government order to close the outlet critical of the outgoing Duterte administration and its deadly drug crackdown.

The Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Tuesday affirmed its revocation of Rappler’s licence over a breach of the ban on foreign ownership and control of media outlets.

The case is one of several against Ressa and Rappler seen as part of an assault on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte, who leaves office today and will be succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the namesake son of the late dictator.

Ressa revealed the shutdown order against Rappler while speaking on Tuesday at the East-West Center in Honolulu. “Part of the reason I didn’t have much sleep last night is because we essentially got a shutdown order,” Ressa told the audience.

She told reporters later in a Zoom interview that Rappler would continue to stand up for its rights. “You’ve heard me state repeatedly over the last six years that we have been harassed. This is intimidation. These are political tactics. We refuse to succumb to them,” Ressa said.

Rappler’s attorney Francis Lim said the website had legal remedies available to question the SEC’s administrative decision in the courts. “And we are confident that at the end of the day we shall prevail,” Lim said yesterday in Manila.

A Rappler staff member monitors the screen as journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa talks during a Zoom meeting. PHOTO: AP

“Rappler is facing government retaliation for its fearless reporting about rights abuses in the ‘drug war’, Duterte and Marcos’ use of disinformation on social media, and a wide variety of rights abusing actions over the past six years,” Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson, said in a statement. “This is an effort to shut up Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, and shut down Rappler, by hook or by crook.”

Ressa and Russian Dmitry Muratov last year became the first working journalists in more than 80 years to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Muratov’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, suspended operations in March after pressure from Russian authorities.

It was the last major independent media outlet critical of President Vladimir Putin’s government left in Russia after others either closed or were blocked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Ressa co-founded Rappler in 2012. After Duterte took office in 2016, it increasingly reported on the police raids that left thousands of mostly poor, petty drug suspects dead in overwhelmed morgues.

Police said they were acting in self-defence when officers gunned down alleged drug dealers.

Few suspects were questioned in what human rights activists soon described as extrajudicial executions.

Duterte and other Philippine officials have said the criminal complaints against Ressa and Rappler were not a press freedom issue but part of normal judicial procedures arising from their alleged violations of the law.

However, Duterte has openly lambasted journalists and news sites who report critically about him, including the country’s largest TV network, ABS-CBN, which was shut down in 2020 after lawmakers refused to renew its 25-year licence.

As Rappler’s President and CEO, Ressa faces several criminal complaints over the website’s news operations. She was convicted of libel in 2020 and sentenced to six years in prison but has remained free on bail while the case is on appeal.