Philippine Court Gives Ressa Greenlight to Attend Nobel Prize Ceremony in Norway

Camille Elemia
Manila
2021-12-03
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Philippine Court Gives Ressa Greenlight to Attend Nobel Prize Ceremony in Norway Philippine journalist Maria Ressa holds a news conference after a court found her guilty of cyber libel, at the Manila Regional Trial Court, June 15, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A court in the Philippines ruled on Friday that journalist Maria Ressa is not a flight risk and could travel to Norway to collect her Nobel Peace Prize in person during a ceremony in Oslo next week.

The Court of Appeals, which is handling a cyber-libel case against the chief editor of the Rappler news website, rejected a claim by Philippine Solicitor General Jose Calida that Ressa was a “flight risk,” and noted that the journalist had, in fact, returned to the country this week after being allowed to go abroad.

A thorough review of the case “shows that Ressa successfully proved that her intended travel to Oslo, Norway from Dec. 8, 2021 to Dec. 13, 2021 is necessary and urgent,” the court ruled.

Calida had earlier argued that Ressa’s “recurring criticisms of the Philippine legal system” indicated that she would try to evade the law here, insisting that Ressa could attend the Nobel ceremony virtually.

But the court disagreed.

“Under the circumstances, Ressa cannot just utilize any available technological application, and the necessity of her presence at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony is reasonably explained,” it emphasized.

“In fact, there is no option for her to virtually receive the award or through a representative.”

The court, citing its Oct. 18, 2021 resolution, again ruled that Ressa was “not a flight risk” by noting that the journalist had attached her confirmed itinerary, including her scheduled return home on Dec. 13.

“She has committed to inform this court of her return within 24 hours from her arrival in the Philippines. Indeed, these show that Ressa intends to immediately return after the conclusion of the Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony,” the court said.

On Thursday, Ressa returned to the Philippines from the United States where she gave a series of lectures at Harvard University and celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with relatives who live in the U.S.

On Friday she welcomed the news about the court’s ruling.

“Thank you for giving me back my right to travel,” the 58-year-old journalist said.

Last month, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named Ressa, chief executive of Rappler, a co-winner of its prestigious peace prize along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Ressa is the first Filipino Nobel laureate. Her website has closely followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s five-year war on drugs that has left thousands of people dead.

Duterte once falsely accused her of receiving funds from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and of spreading “fake news.”

In June 2020, she and a former colleague were convicted of cyber libel. They face up to six years in prison and are currently free on bail pending an appeal.

Ressa has seen two other libel charges dismissed by the court, but she still faces seven criminal charges against her, including tax evasion.

Her conviction was part of Duterte’s attempt to muzzle journalists reporting on his administration’s controversial drug war, human rights and press freedom advocates said.

The Philippines has continuously fallen on the World Press Freedom Index in the last five years, ranking 127 out of 180 countries in 2017 to 138 this year.

Ressa and Muratov are scheduled to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in the Norwegian capital on Dec. 10.

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