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International groups voice concern over Rappler closure order

Rappler chief Maria Ressa and a former investigative reporteer were summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation over a complaint by a businessman for alleged violations of the country's Cybercrime Law. AFP/File

International groups voice concern over Rappler closure order

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - January 19, 2018 - 11:55am

MANILA, Philippines — More international groups have voiced their concern over the Philippine government's move to shut down online news organization Rappler.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has called on the United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to "take a stand against the Philippine government's decision to close" Rappler.

RSF said that it is throwing its "full support" behond Rappler as it battles a case that the media watchdog called a "flagrant violation of media freedom."

The government, as well as the National Press Club of the Philippines, has said that the Rappler case is not about press freedom but about the website's foreign funding, which the Securities and Exchange Commission said violated constitutional restrictions.

The SEC ordered the cancellation of Rappler's corporate registration following its supposed violations of the country's prohibition against foreign ownership of local media. Rappler has denied this and has vowed to take the matter to court.

RSF Deputy Director-General Antoine Bernard said: "The decision to close Rappler is fraught with danger, hence the urgency of referring it to these international bodies."

Bernard also expressed concern for the "safety of [Rappler]'s journalists and the protection of their sources," citing that the online outfit is known for its investigative reportage.

Thailand-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said that case "may have been retaliatory and politically motivated."

"If such restrictions on freedom of expression are enforced with the actual aim of punishing or preventing critical political expression, or are enforced only against some political or other opinions are not others, this would violate the rights to freedom of expression and non-discrimination under the Philippines Constitution and international human rights law," the ICJ warned.

ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser Emerlynne Gil said that the Philippine court "must give rigorous scrutiny both to the specific basis the authorities offer for the decision concerning Rappler Inc."

Just last Thursday, the National Bureau of Investigation summoned Rappler CEO Maria Ressa as well as a former Rappler reporter and an incorporator of one of Rappler's shareholders for an investigation into a complaint filed against the the media outfit's for an alleged violation the Anti-Cybercrime Law.

The complaint is over a piece Rappler published in 2012.

The subpoena comes on the heels of the directive from Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to probe Rappler for possible criminal liabilities.

President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted he had nothing to do with the SEC ruling, which was based on an investigation requested by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Duterte has continued to criticize Rappler and other media organizations for their supposed "unfair" coverage of his administration.

READ: Rights groups on Rappler closure: Don't shoot the messenger

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