The Court of Appeals in Philippines has allowed journalist Maria Ressa to travel to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, overturning a decision by the government to block her from attending the ceremony.
This happened as a global network of editors, media executives and journalists called for the dropping of charges against Ms Ressa by the Philippine authorities.
Ms Ressa, who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October along with Russian investigative journalist Dmitri A. Muratov, had been denied permits to travel to Norway after the government termed her a “flight risk”.
But in a statement, the International Press Institute said that it was appalled by the decision of the Philippine authorities to detain the journalist, accusing the government of preferring tramped up charges against her.
The Institute said that Ms Ressa, just like her colleagues across the globe who have been fighting for the freedom of the press, should be celebrated for their efforts in advocating for free speech and a just society and ought not to be punished.
IPI deputy director Scott Griffen said that the Institute was worried that the Philippines had decided to block its citizen from attending the Nobel event, on false charges.
“We, the members of the global Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI) – editors and journalists hailing from 24 countries – call on the government of the Philippines to allow our fellow board member and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa to attend her Nobel ceremony on December 10 in Oslo,” said the statement.
“Equally, we renew our call on the Philippine authorities to drop all remaining charges against Ressa. We view these charges as targeted harassment intended as retaliation against Ressa and her news outlet, Rappler, for their critical reporting,” added Mr Griffen.
Ms Ressa had last month been blocked from leaving the country after the government called her a flight risk due to her constant criticism of the Philippine legal processes in the international community.
But her lawyers immediately challenged the decision in the country’s Court of Appeals, terming the move by the government an infringement on the journalist’s rights.
Ms Ressa, is the first Nobel laureate from the Philippines. She is currently the chief executive officer of Rappler, a digital news organisation that is known for its investigations on disinformation and of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal five-year drug war.
She is also an outspoken critic of Mr Duterte, whose government has filed seven criminal charges against her, including cyber libel and tax evasion.
This year’s Nobel prize is the first to be awarded to a working journalist since 1935 when it was given to Carl von Ossietzky, a decision IPI said had set a global example in the fight to preserve press freedom as a pillar of open, democratic and fair societies governed by the rule of law.
“That is why we are deeply disturbed that the Philippine authorities are seeking to prevent Ressa from travelling to Oslo to collect her Nobel Peace Prize. The list of governments that have prevented Nobel Peace Prize laureates from attending the ceremony is short, but striking: the Germany Nazi party blocked Carl von Ossietzky from travelling to Oslo in 1935; authoritarian China did the same to dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010,” IPI said.
Not a flight risk
The Institute said that arguments by the Philippine authorities that Ms Ressa was a flight risk were false, arguing that each time she left the country, she had returned to continue with her fight for justice and equal rights, and to face her accusers in court.
“Indeed, since 2019, Ressa has been granted permission to travel 36 times. Each time, she has come back to the Philippines, even when facing new charges. She has underscored that “exile is not an option”.
“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’.” Mr Griffen said.
Ms Ressa is due to fly to Oslo from Manila on December 8, 2021, according to her lawyers.
Last week, a coalition of groups from the Philippines made up of rights activists and academics called on the government to allow her to go to Oslo.