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Ressa's free speech fight should be ours, too

2 14 9

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic and a paroxysm of racial resentments in the United States, it would be tempting to avoid hurting our heads even further with the details of a complicated legal battle now unfolding in a faraway place. But if we believe in democracy and want to preserve it, journalist Maria Ressa’s battle for freedom must be ours as well.

Ressa’s legal team was back in a Philippine court Monday to appeal the libel verdict handed down earlier this month against her. It’s the latest twist in a legal battle that rivals Charles Dickens' famous novel “Bleak House,” a powerful allegory in which, as in Ressa’s case, legal technicalities end up overriding basic human morality and common sense.

A former CNN reporter raised in New Jersey after her parents fled martial law in the Philippines, Ressa eventually returned to her home country and founded Rappler, an innovative online news outlet. Its investigations have drawn the ire of Rodrigo Duterte, the unsavory but hugely popular Philippine president.

Duterte does not brook criticism. He’s already locked up one Philippine senator who criticized him, and he recently shut down one of the country’s leading broadcast networks. Against Rappler, Duterte is engaged in what might be called censorship by trial: Over the past 15 months, 11 separate cases have been leveled against the news organization or its employees. Ressa herself has had to post bail eight times just to stay out of jail.

The resulting legal fees, she told me over the weekend, have been costing Rappler almost $40,000 a month. “That’s more than one-third of our monthly spend,” Ressa said.

Americans need to care not just because Ressa earned her college degree and citizenship here, not just because she’s standing up for that most American of values — the........


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