Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and international human rights lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, have expressed shock at new national security legislation imposed on Hong Kong.
Joining an FCC webinar on her fight against her recent conviction in the Philippines on cyber libel charges, Ressa was unequivocal when asked what was her reaction to the introduction of the law: “Shock”.
“When we were looking at the protests and this surge for press freedom… I understood why and we all were trying to understand, why is that not happening here? What’s the difference?
“What we’re seeing is really a geopolitical power shift and COVID-19 is helping that. But this is also where I feel Hong Kong is punching above its weight, what you guys do will impact the rest of us. And the Philippines is also punching above its weight in terms of a geopolitical power balance because President Duterte’s shift from the US to China and Russia. That is shifting the power balance in the South China Sea.”
Gallagher, a renowned lawyer who leads Ressa’s international defence team alongside Amal Clooney, expressed “shock and concern”. She was also deeply concerned by Carrie Lam’s July 7 comments in which the Hong Kong Chief Executive said she would give guarantees about press freedom to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and journalists if they also give “a 100% guarantee that they will not commit any offences under this piece of national legislation”.
“That is a promise that’s not worth the paper it’s not written on, if I can put it that way, when you then look at the law, which is breathtakingly broad. I read with some horror the description of the crime of subversion, undermining the power and authority of central government. So the crimes themselves are exceptionally broad.”
She added: “I’m very concerned by the provisions relating to regulation and surveillance. The part that someone suspected of breaking this breathtakingly broad law can be wiretapped and put under surveillance is of serious concern to journalists.”
On her legal fight against her June conviction and sentence of six years in prison, Ressa said she was “geared up for battle”.
The executive editor of news website Rappler.com was arrested last year over an allegedly defamatory article published in 2012 which linked a businessman to trafficking and drug smuggling. She denied charges of cyber libel, calling them “baseless”. The move came several months after a warrant was issued for her arrest on seven charges of tax fraud — a case she called “politically motivated”. Rappler has been a frequent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration.
On June 29, Ressa and co-defendant Reynaldo Santos Jr filed a motion for partial reconsideration, appealing to Manila Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa to reconsider her decision.
The FCC issued a statement deploring the conviction, saying it set a precedent and could have a “chilling effect on the press in the Philippines and across the region”.
Club president Jodi Schneider said: “Press freedom, already endangered in the Philippines, is now further undermined with this high-profile verdict.”