US concerned by libel verdicts against Philippine journalists

June 17, 2020 - 4:55 PM
Maria Ressa, Executive Editor and CEO of Philippine news website Rappler, speaks to the media beside former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr (L) and lawyer Ted Te (R), after being found guilty of cyber-libel, in Manila City Hall, in Manila, Philippines, June 15, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it is concerned about court verdicts against two journalists in the Philippines and called for the case against them to be resolved in ways that reinforced a shared commitment to freedom of expression.

Veteran Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, a dual U.S.-Filipino citizen whose website has put President Rodrigo Duterte under tough scrutiny, was convicted of libel on Monday and faces up to six years in jail, in a ruling widely seen as a blow to media freedom.

Reynaldo Santos, a former Rappler researcher and writer, was also found guilty in the case. Both were granted bail pending an appeal.

“The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the U.S. and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday.

The court decision has fueled concern over human rights in a country where Duterte’s war on drugs has left thousands dead. He recently renewed a threat to kill drug dealers, despite condemnation in a U.N. report.

U.S. lawmakers have criticized what they see as harassment of Ressa.—Reporting by David Brunnstrom Editing by Paul Simao