Defending Journalists in an Era of ‘Destroyed Rights’

Feb 12, 2019 by

The vicious digital campaign to silence Filipino news site Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa makes clear that it’s time for a new charter for human rights online

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When things got desperate my parents signed letters. Letters which could cost them their safety and freedom. But they felt that not to sign was to acquiesce in the immorality of the regime when it arrested people for simply speaking their mind.

This was in the Soviet Union, during the late 1970s, in the frosty years of the Cold War. Public letters addressed to the West were a desperate form of resistance: if one could raise enough noise among the powerful perhaps they could lobby for a political prisoner’s release; if there was enough public outcry, maybe the Soviet leadership could be shamed into softening a sentence.

Forty years later, as I sat down to write a similar letter in the face of a regime’s intimidation, I found myself at a loss. Though I face none of the dangers that my parents did, I also had no idea who and what to appeal to — or how. Who was I to address the letter to? Which powerful people will help a dissident? Are the rights fought for so bitterly in the 20th century still meaningful? What can a letter ever hope to achieve?

As punishment for doing her job well, Maria Ressa now faces trumped up charges of tax evasion. She risks imprisonment.

The letter I wanted to write was in support of the journalist Maria Ressa and her pioneering news site “Rappler,” which has won millions of readers in the Philippines since it started up in 2011. Rappler have been attacked for their thorough reporting on the extrajudicial killings carried out by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

As punishment for doing her job well, Maria now faces trumped up charges of tax evasion. She risks imprisonment. Rappler may vanish entirely. We have seen this pattern repeated worldwide: the regime picks a victim, makes an example of them, and thus breaks the whole industry.

As I looked for guidance on how to write a letter in support of Maria I dug out one of the most famous letters by a Soviet dissident: Andrei Sakharov’s, published in the New York Times in 1977. Sakharov addressed his letter directly to then-US President Jimmy Carter:

“Dear Mr Carter, it’s very important to defend those who suffer because of their nonviolent struggle, for openness, for justice, for destroyed rights….our and your duty is to fight for them. I think a great deal depends on this struggle — trust between the people, trust in high promises and the final result — international security.”

continue: Defending Journalists in an Era of ‘Destroyed Rights’ – Coda Story

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