Press lobby asks Phillipines to let Nobel winner Maria Ressa attend ceremony

Maria Ressa

Filipino journalist Maria Ressa gestures as she speaks to the press after posting bail outside a court building Manila on March 29, 2019.

Photo credit: File | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ms Ressa, the founder and CEO of Philippines news site Rappler, was this year announced as the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Dmitry Muratov.
  • Ms Ressa has been convicted on “cyber libel” charges that have left her facing up to six years in prison under Phillipines law.

Journalists around the world, including Kenya, have called on the Philippines government to allow their colleague and winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to attend the award ceremony.

The International Press Institute (IPI), which brings together editors and journalists from across the world, on Wednesday said there was no basis to deny Maria Ressa permission to attend the ceremony due on December 10 in Oslo.

Ms Ressa, the founder and CEO of Philippines news site Rappler, was this year announced as the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Dmitry Muratov, the editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper.

But she has faced local criminal charges and there were indications she could be prevented from attending the event in Norway as authorities considered her a flight risk.

On Tuesday, the global Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI) said she should be allowed to travel as she has often returned to the country even when under investigation.

“There is no legitimate reason to prevent her from accepting this award, which the Philippine government itself has said is given to individuals who have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind,” said Scott Griffen, Deputy Director of IPI in a statement endorsed by members, including Kenya’s Stephen Gitagama, the chairman of the Media Owners Association, and CEO of the Nation Media Group.

'Cyber libel' charges

Ms Ressa has been convicted on “cyber libel” charges that have left her facing up to six years in prison under Phillipines law. She currently faces seven proceedings, all related to her work of investigating authorities and publishing critical stories about the government. Besides libel, she has been accused of tax violations and infringement of foreign ownership laws.

“These cases, themselves, are an attack on press freedom, a manifestly transparent attempt to silence Ressa and shut down Rappler in retaliation for critical coverage of the current government. In other words: Maria Ressa is being prosecuted for doing her job,” the IPI said.

The two journalists are the first lot to win a Nobel Peace Prize since 1935 when German Carl von Ossietzky was awarded for investigating the secret re-arming of the Nazi regime in Germany. But the Nazis did not allow him to travel to the awards ceremony at the time.

Journalists across the world feel Ressa should be allowed to attend the historic fête, given the rarity with which the media wins the prize. 

The Kenya Editors Guild said the Philippines should not penalise Ressa for doing her job.

“Kenyan editors hold that journalism is not a crime and call upon all well meaning people and their leaders to do all in their power to help Maria Ressa personally receive her Nobel Peace Prize,” said Kenya Editors Guild President Churchill Otieno.

Highest accolade

“Maria’s work in journalism stands out globally and remains a key inspiration for independent journalists at a time of unending challenges. We ask the Philippine authorities to do the right thing.”

As is tradition, Nobel winners are asked to deliver public lectures in Oslo, the seat of the Nobel Committee. It often gives recipients a chance to explain their challenges, criticise those violating freedoms and make specific calls to action.

Recent winners such as Dr Denis Mukwege of DRC have used it to rally the world against sexual violence in times of war.

“We join global calls on the Philippine government to allow Maria Ressa to travel to Norway,” said Erick Oduor, Secretary General of the Kenya Union of Journalists.

“We believe travel restrictions are connected to her work as a journalist at a time her efforts to hold the Phillippine governmental accountable have been recognised.”

Some countries have protested when dissidents are recognised abroad. The Nobel Peace Prize is considered the highest accolade for those dedicated to service for humanity.

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