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Maria Ressa found guilty in blow to Philippines’ press freedom |NationalTribune.com

A court in the Philippines has found journalist Maria Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr guilty of “cyber libel”, in a controversial case seen as a major test of press freedom under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. In a decision issued on Monday, the court sentenced Ressa, the executive editor of the…

Maria Ressa found guilty in blow to Philippines’ press freedom |NationalTribune.com

A court in the Philippines has found journalist Maria Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr guilty of “cyber libel”, in a controversial case seen as a major test of press freedom under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a decision issued on Monday, the court sentenced Ressa, the executive editor of the news website Rappler, and Santos Jr to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail. It allowed them to post bail, pending an appeal. They are the first two journalists in the Philippines to be convicted for cyber libel.
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Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa also ordered the payment equivalent to $8,000 for moral and exemplary damages to the businessman who lodged the complaint. The complainant originally sought an estimated $1m in damages.
In a press conference following the verdict, Ressa vowed to fight the case, saying the case of Rappler was “a cautionary tale” for the Philippine media.
“It is a blow to us. But it is also not unexpected,” Ressa said. “I appeal to you, the journalists in this room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid. But don’t be afraid. Because if you don’t use your rights, you will lose them.

“Although out on bail while she appeals the verdict, [#MariaRessa’s] wrongful conviction sends a message to all journalists that you could be next if you report critically on President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.” @CPJAsia ‘s Shawn Crispin #Philippines https://t.co/eFwvmiJOuN
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) June 15, 2020

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything,” she added, as she fought back tears.
Santos said he was “disappointed” of the verdict and felt “very sad” at the outcome.
The case is the first of at least eight active cases filed against Ressa and her media organisation since Duterte came to office in 2016.
Following the verdict, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said “the court decision should be respected”, adding that Duterte “has never been behind any effort to curtail press freedom in the country”.
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called the decision “a dark day” for independent Philippine media and all Filipinos.
“The verdict basically kills freedom of speech and of the press,” the organisation said. “But we will not be cowed. We will continue to stand our ground against all attempts to suppress our freedoms.”
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) described the latest development as “a menacing blow to press freedom”.

Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin described the verdict as a “sham” that should be quashed.
“The accusations against them are political, the prosecution was politically motivated and the sentence is nothing but political,” Bequelin said in a statement.
“This guilty verdict follows the shutdown of ABS-CBN, which remains off the air – also after coming under the President’s attacks. The international community cannot remain silent in the face of this brazen vendetta against the press.”
The cyber-libel case against Ressa and her publication stemmed from a 2017 complaint filed by a businessman over a Rappler story that was published in 2012, before the cybercrime law was passed.
The businessman, Wilfredo Keng, said he was “defamed” when he was linked to the then-Supreme Court chief justice, who was later removed from office through impeachment.
The libel complaint was dismissed in 2018, but the National Bureau of Investigation reversed the decision and recommended to the justice ministry that Ressa and the reporter, Reynaldo Santos Jr, be prosecuted. Prosecutors said they were only following the law.
‘Absurd’ case
Around the same time, Duterte had sought to close Rappler for alleged foreign ownership and tax evasion, allegations Rappler denied.
The news site had attracted Duterte’s ire for its relentless coverage of the so-called “war on drugs” during which thousands of people have died. It also exposed a pro-Duterte network circulating alleged fake news on social media.

BREAKING. The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 convicted Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos over cyber libel charges in a high-profile verdict handed down Monday, June 15. https://t.co/o7fgxV0ThN
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) June 15, 2020

In addition to Rappler, Duterte has seemingly also targeted and forced the closure of ABS-CBN, the largest media company in the Philippines, while the owners of the country’s largest newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer, were forced to sell the publication to a Duterte ally after publishing news reports and editorials critical of the mounting deaths in the “war on drugs”.
In a statement, the International Center for Journalists condemned the “state-sponsored legal harassment” in the Philippines.
“ICFJ will continue to support her and her team as they report the news – despite official attempts to silence them.”

In a press conference following the verdict, Ressa vowed to fight on, saying the case of Rappler is ‘a cautionary tale’ for the Philippine media [Aaron Favila/AP]

Ahead of the verdict, Carlos Conde, of Human Rights Watch in the Philippines, said the case against Rappler “should never have been filed to begin with.”
“The absurdity of this particular case against Maria Ressa – prosecutors deemed the story in question ‘republished’ after Rappler corrected one word that was misspelled – suggests the desperation of those behind it to silence her and Rappler,” Conde said in a statement to Al Jazeera.
While the article in question had been published in 2012, a spelling correction had been made to one word in 2014, something the prosecutors dubbed a “republication” of the article that put it within reach of the cybercrime law.
During an online forum on Monday, Jose Manuel Diokno, a leading human rights lawyer, predicted a “long battle ahead” as the defendants moved to file an appeal.
“This is not the end of it,” said Diokno, a critic of the Duterte administration and opposition candidate for senator in 2019. “There’s a strong need for us to generate a lot of public opinion, a lot of press on the government, on the courts, to look very deeply into this case. The ramifications of this case go deep into whether we can still call the country a real democracy.”
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COVID-19: US passes ‘unfathomable’ 200,000 death toll |NationalTribune.com

Sorry, we can’t find the page that you are looking for. Don’t let that stop you from visiting some of our other great related content.EXPLORE MOREPalestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel dealsPalestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.At UN,…

COVID-19: US passes ‘unfathomable’ 200,000 death toll |NationalTribune.com

Sorry, we can’t find the page that you are looking for. Don’t let that stop you from visiting some of our other great related content.EXPLORE MOREPalestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel dealsPalestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.At UN, Qatar emir questions world inaction on Israeli occupationQatar’s leader says Israel continues to carry out ‘flagrant violation of international resolutions’.Lebanon: Hezbollah arms depot blast caused by ‘technical error’Lebanon’s official news agency said explosion took place in southern village of Ein Qana, about 50km south of Beirut.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com

Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…

Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com

Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
IAEA-Iran relations
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.

“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.

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Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com

Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…

Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com

Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.

Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation

The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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