Rappler, the independent news organization that earned its co-founder Maria Ressa a Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, has been ordered to close down.
The paper had been under siege for much of the past six years for its frequent criticism of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
The order to close came just two days before Duterte is due to end his term as president and hand over to Ferdinand Marcos Jr., heir to the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
It also came just days after the country’s National Security Council ordered the National Telecommunications Commission to block access to 28 news websites. They are accused of supporting terrorism through affiliation with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
The order against Rappler was issued by the country’s Securities & Exchange Commission which reiterated a previous order to revoke Rappler’s certificates of incorporation.
A Filipino American, Ressa was previously found guilty of cyber-libel, in June 2020, and faces between six months and six years in jail. She was a major part of the 2020 PBS documentary “A Thousand Cuts” which examined how Duterte use social media to spread disinformation.
The PSEC has accused Rappler of being controlled from abroad, which is not permitted by the Philippines constitution. Rappler denies the accusation, arguing that the PSEC approved the arrangement in 2015 (prior to Duterte’s presidency) and second that the Philippines Depositary Receipts (shares) held by EBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network were donated to Rappler’s Filipino staff members, thus removing the foreign connection.
“This is intimidation. These are political tactics. We refuse to succumb to them,” Ressa said on Wednesday at a press event. “We’re not going to voluntarily give up our rights. And we really shouldn’t. I continue to appeal for that because when you give up your rights, you’re never going to get them back.”
“We have existing legal remedies all the way up to the highest court of the land. It is business as usual for us since, in our view, this is not immediately executory without court approval,” said Rappler.
News organizations affected by the NSC blocking order include Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, as well as progressive groups such as Save Our Schools Network, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Pamalakaya Pilipinas, Amihan and BAYAN.
“Blocking access to independent media organizations under the justification of alleged terrorist affiliations is a clear attempt at censorship and media control. The IFJ urges the Philippines’ authorities, including the NTC, to immediately restore access to all online media sites and ensure press freedom is protected.”
Duterte has been widely accused at home and abroad of human rights abuses. These especially relate to his campaign against drugs and drug usage which may have involved several thousand extra-judicial killings by police forces.
In 2018, the International Criminal Court opened an examination Duterte’s “war on drugs”. Last year, the ICC announced it was proceeding to open an investigation after it established reasonable basis that crimes against humanity, torture and other ill-treatment have been committed in the Philippines, but the investigation was suspended at the request of the Duterte government.
Amnesty International, a rights advocacy organization, on Wednesday issued a statement calling for the new Marcos regime to become more press-friendly. “We .. urge the new administration to commit to improving the human rights situation more broadly. This includes ending attacks against activists and human rights defenders and ensuring press freedom for independent news outlets such as Rappler, which is facing risks of being shut down a day before the inauguration in the latest blatant attempt to muzzle critical voices.”
Ressa’s 2021 Nobel Prize was shared with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.
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