The Philippine government has blocked Nobel Peace Prize winning journalist Maria Ressa from traveling to Toronto, accordingly to Massey College.

Ressa was slated to deliver a speech Saturday at a Massey College gala. Instead, she appeared via Zoom.

Ressa, a sharp critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, planned to attend the 60th anniversary celebration of the William Southam Journalism Fellowships in person at the Toronto Reference Library on Saturday.

Ressa tweeted: “Dear friends in Toronto, I should be at @MasseyCollege now, but I received court approvals for only 6 of 7 charges. So I couldn’t get on the plane.”

Ressa has long suffered government censorship for her reporting. Duterte has called the publication she founded, Rapplerto “fake news outlet,” reported Reuters in 2018, the year she was named Time Magazine’s person of the year. The same year, the Philippine government revoked the site’s license.

Ressa shared a draft of her speech with the Star, noting she’s been a journalist for 36 years.

“And I’ve done nothing wrong, except to do my best at the profession that’s made me who I am,” she wrote.

In 2020, Ressa was convicted of libel. Human rights groups and advocates called these politically motivated charges and a death blow to press freedom in the Philippines.

Ressa has recently tweeted about needing court approval to travel internationally. In an email to the Star, she said: “It was part of a trip that I should have received approval for because I’ve proven repeatedly (after more than 36 trips) that I’m no flight risk.”

In addition to the Canadian trip, Ressa had also planned a visit to Stanford University last Wednesday, to give a speech alongside former US president Barack Obama. Unable to travel, she spoke remotely.

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“There’s a certain randomness to whether I get my rights nowadays,” wrote Ressa in the advance copy of her Massey College speech sent to the Star. “For no understandable reason, I’ve lost my right to travel again. I think — like the exponential online attacks against me and the weaponization of the law — these events are meant to tear down my spirit. It makes it incredibly difficult to plan a life, to see my family, to do my job.”

Nathalie Des Rosiers, principal of Massey College, began planning Saturday night’s event in December. She didn’t anticipate Ressa would be prevented from attending.

“We know that good journalism gets you in trouble,” said Des Rosier. “If you’re a journalist, and you do your job right, this is what can happen.”

In Ressa’s speech, she asks rhetorically if, given the seeming futility, she wouldn’t be better off if she quit planning international trips altogether.

“No way,” she answers herself. “I’m not voluntarily giving up my rights! The last six years have taught me: Adversity becomes me.

“You don’t really know who you are until you fight for it, and it’s been one big fight for my values ​​and my profession since 2016. Nietzsche was right: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

With files by The Associated Press

Ben Cohen is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn



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