Ruth Smeeth: “Index will always be a home for people who want to be heard”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”104009″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There are so many ways you can infringe on someone else’s free speech and obviously some examples are much more egregious than others. Some instances undermine the very premise of this most basic of human rights whilst others are so personal that they create a chilling effect on people’s ability to participate in their own national conversation.

This week, we’ve been able to witness everything on the spectrum from people being trolled for taking a stand against racism to Maria Ressa facing yet more legal action in the Philippines. There is also the awful case of one of the key witnesses in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial being found with a slit throat on the morning they were due to give evidence.

Each of these issues demands their own platform, their own space to explore what is happening and what it means both for the individuals concerned and for the societies we live in, whether they be physical or virtual. Context and analysis are key; collectively we need to understand what each of these cases mean for our society and where they fit into the current debate on free speech.

Index was launched, nearly half a century ago, to be a voice for the persecuted, giving space to those people who could not be published elsewhere. We were also tasked with shining a spotlight on repressive regimes, exposing authoritarian attacks on free speech and celebrating those people who were brave enough to speak out. And just as importantly we were established to ensure that the UK remained a bastion of hope for those people who lived in societies which didn’t respect their core human rights. These three pillars remain at the core of what we do and who we are.

Index will always be a home for people who want to be heard.  We will always stand against authoritarian and repressive regimes to protect our collective free speech.  And we will stand against anyone who seeks to use their power to silence those less powerful.  Our role is to expose, to listen and to stand with some of the bravest people in the world so that their voices can be heard.  So that you can hear directly from them

To do this we need your help – please take a minute and, if you can, donate to Index so we can keep doing this vital work.[/vc_column_text][vc_btn title=”DONATE” color=”danger” size=”lg” link=”|||”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ” category_id=”581″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

#HoldTheLine Coalition calls on Philippines authorities to drop Maria Ressa charges ahead of 22 July hearing

Index and the other 77 civil society and journalism organisations that make up the #HoldTheLineCoalition demand that the Philippines authorities drop a barrage of bogus tax and foreign ownership cases against journalist Maria Ressa and Rappler – the news organisation she founded. 

“The prosecution of baseless financial charges and cases represents an attempt to use tax law and foreign ownership regulations as another weapon to criminalise journalism and silence Ressa and Rappler as threats to press freedom and democracy escalate in the Philippines,” said the #HoldTheLine steering committee. “We urge the government to drop all charges and cease and desist its orchestrated harassment campaign.”

The Coalition was formed after Ressa, a prominent Filipino-American editor, was convicted on a trumped-up criminal cyber libel charge in June.   

The Coalition’s call for the dismissal of all tax and foreign ownership cases and charges comes as Ressa prepares to return to court in Manila on 22 July on a baseless criminal tax charge, amid concerns about a suspected Covid-19 outbreak involving the death of a worker at the Pasig Regional Trial Court where the hearing will take place.

Ahead of this appearance, this Court has an opportunity to quash the criminal taxation charge on which Ressa faces arraignment. The #HoldTheLine Coalition urges the state to immediately drop this charge and end the prosecution of the other charges and cases associated with it.

Convictions against Ressa in three related tax cases cumulatively represent prison sentences of 44 years. They hinge upon the bogus notion that Rappler’s parent company, Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC), is not a holding company for a news organisation but rather a ‘dealer in securities.’ 

“Legal acrobatics – that’s what all these cases show. In order to charge me with tax evasion, the government reclassified Rappler as a ‘dealer in securities’ – we’re obviously a news organisation. It’s absurd!” Ressa said. “From inciting hate on social media to weaponising the law to using the full force of the state against journalists trying to hold power to account … it’s a war of attrition, tearing down trust and credibility. This is how democracy dies by a thousand cuts.” 

The tax-related cases and charges are predicated on another suite of charges and cases connected to alleged foreign media ownership breaches designed to shut Rappler down. They cumulatively represent maximum prison sentences of up to 36 years. 

Together with the criminal libel conviction, which is currently under appeal, and a second pending libel action, convictions in all these cases could theoretically lead to a century in jail for Ressa.

Further, the Coalition calls on the Pasig Regional Trial Court to conduct proceedings remotely on 22 July to ensure the safety of Ressa, her legal representatives, media and court staff amid the coronavirus pandemic. We note that in addition to this court being associated with what appears to be a deadly Covid-19 outbreak, Ressa was forced into lockdown following her appearance in June before a different court which was also the subject of a COVID-19 scare

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling on  the Philippine government to drop all cases against Ressa, her former colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr, and Rappler, and to cease attacks on independent media in the Philippines.


Index joins #HoldTheLine campaign in support of Maria Ressa and independent media in the Philippines

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship has joined sixty press freedom groups and civil society organisations, journalism institutions, filmmakers, and other supporters to form a coalition in support of internationally celebrated Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa.

Index has joined with the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Center for Journalists , and Reporters Without Borders and many others (see below) in the launch of the #HoldTheLine campaign in support of Ressa and independent media under attack in the Philippines. Acting in coordination with Ressa and her legal team, representatives from the three groups form the steering committee, working alongside dozens of partners on the global campaign and reporting initiatives. The campaign takes its name from Ressa’s commitment to ‘hold the line’ in response to sustained state harassment and prolific online violence.

Ressa is best known for two decades covering South East Asia for CNN and founding the multi-award winning Philippines news website Rappler. On 15 June 2020, she was convicted of “cyber-libel,” alongside former Rappler colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr – a criminal charge for which they face up to six years in prison. The conviction relates to a story about corruption from 2012 – before the law was even enacted – and hung on the correction of a typo. 

Ressa and Santos both posted bail, but could be imprisoned if the case is not overturned on appeal. Ressa is facing at least six other cases and charges. Guilty verdicts in all of them could result in her spending nearly a century in jail. Rappler is also implicated in most of these cases, with several involving criminal charges related to libel, foreign ownership, and taxes. The convictions are the latest offence in the Duterte government’s wider campaign to stifle independent reporting, including the recent shutdown of the main national broadcaster ABS-CBN.

“I am moved by the incredible outpouring of support we’ve received from around the globe for our campaign to #HoldTheLine against tyranny – even as President Duterte continues his public attacks on me, the legal harassment escalates, and the state-licenced and Facebook-fuelled online violence rages on. We can’t stay silent because silence is consent,” Ressa said. “We need to be outraged, to fight back with journalism. If we don’t use our rights, we will lose them. Please stand with us!”

Those interested in showing support can sign and share this petition calling for the Philippine government to drop all charges and cases against Ressa, Santos and Rappler, and end pressure on independent media in the Philippines.

The 60 founding members of the #HoldTheLine Coalition are:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which form the steering committee; African Media Initiative; Association for International Broadcasting (AIB); Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom; Amnesty International; ARTICLE 19; Association of Caribbean Media Workers; Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma; Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM); Centre for Law and Democracy; CineDiaz; The Coalition For Women In Journalism; Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE); DART Asia Pacific; The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation; Dart Center; Doc Society; English PEN; European Journalism Centre; First Look Media; Free Press Unlimited; Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG); Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD); Global Voices;  Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University; Index on Censorship; Institute for Regional Media and Information (IRMI); International Media Support (IMS); International Association of Women in Radio  and Television (IAWRT); International News Safety Institute (INSI); International Press Institute (IPI); International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF); James W. Foley Legacy Foundation; Judith Neilson Institute; Justice for Journalists Foundation; Media Association for Peace (MAP); Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF); Namibia Media Trust (NMT); National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP); Pakistan Press Foundation; Panos Institute Southern Africa; PEN America; Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); Press Freedom Defence Fund; Project Syndicate; Public Media Alliance; Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; Rappler; Rory Peck Trust; Rural Media Network Pakistan; South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF); Storyhunter; The Signals Network; Tanzania Media Practitioners Association; Union of Journalists in Finland; World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA); and World Editors Forum.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”More news” category_id=”581″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

International media groups denounce Ressa, Santos’ conviction (Rappler)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Philippine online news organisation Rappler quoted Index on Censorship editor-in-chief Rachael Jolley discussing the implications of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s sentencing to up to six years in prison.

““This campaign is a frightening indictment of the pressures on journalists to stop reporting. We call on those who care about media freedom globally to stand up and take notice. This is not just about one journalist in one place, this has significance for journalism everywhere as part of a trend where we see reporters put under enormous pressures to stop covering stories,” said Rachael Jolley, Index on Censorship editor-in-chief.”

Read the full article here[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]