Ottawa should push for sanctions on Duterte, Philippines on Maria Ressa conviction, says World Press Freedom Canada

As host of the upcoming international conference on media freedom, Canada must oppose the autocratic assault on the free press, says WPFC president.

OTTAWA (June 17, 2020) —  Politically motivated persecution of prominent Philippine journalist Maria Ressa underscores the need for international sanctions to protect media rights, says World Press Freedom Canada.

A targeted international sanctions system in response to the persecution of journalists and restrictions on media freedom was proposed in a report initiated by the first Global Conference on Media Freedom, co-hosted by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom last year.

As host of the second conference, a virtual global gathering set for Sept. 16-18, Canada should use its leadership role to champion the sanctions proposal in the panel report authored by lawyer Amal Clooney. In addition to serving as Deputy Chair of the High-Level Panel of Legal Experts On Media Freedom, Clooney is also Ressa’s lawyer.

Ressa, the news website Rappeler of which she is executive editor, and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty of “cyber libel” in a Manila court June 15, the latest of many legal cases against her by the Duterte government that she has characterized as politically motivated “lawfare.”

World Press Freedom Canada President Shawn McCarthy said today Canada should spearhead progress on an international sanctions regime. The government should hold up the Philippines as an example of where such sanctions would apply, while assessing what measures Canada could impose unilaterally to indicate its opposition to Ressa’s prosecution.

“If Canada is serious about taking a leadership role in the world, it is not enough for Ottawa to mouth platitudes on the importance of press freedom to democracy without sending a firm signal of our displeasure to offending regimes,” McCarthy said. “As Ressa’s defence counsel Amal Clooney said, the conviction ‘is an affront to the rule of law, a stark warning to the press, and a blow to democracy in the Philippines.’ This is very much Canada’s concern.”

McCarthy also urged Ottawa to raise Ressa’s case at the G7 summit in Washington, currently scheduled for September, and at the United Nations.

The Clooney report noted that Canada, in response to media freedom abuses, imposed financial and immigration sanctions against 17 Saudi nationals on the basis that these individuals were ‘responsible for or complicit in the extrajudicial killing’ of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sanctions were also imposed against public officials and military figures who were responsible or complicit in violations of human rights in Venezuela, among them a campaign of repression against protesters and other dissidents, including the extrajudicial killings of dissidents and lack of media freedom.

The full panel report is available here.

For further information, contact:
Shawn McCarthy
613 294 4491

World Press Freedom Canada monitors press freedom issues nationally and globally. Our mission is to celebrate World Press Freedom Day and to advocate for freedom of expression. Through our activities, vigilance and relationships with like-minded organizations, we raise public awareness for the right of free expression, identify violations and pro-actively defend freedom of the press.