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Maria Ressa ’86 prevented from leaving the Philippines on her way to be honored at Princeton Alumni Day

<h5>Maria Ressa ’86 visited The Daily Princetonian’s newsroom in 2019.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Maria Ressa ’86 visited The Daily Princetonian’s newsroom in 2019.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Update: Since the time of publication, Ressa has been cleared for travel for Alumni Day, according to an article posted on Rappler. The story appears in original form below.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa ’86 is slated to be presented with the Woodrow Wilson Award at Princeton Alumni Day on Saturday, Feb. 19. Now, her ability to be physically present to receive the award may be in jeopardy. 

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In a Feb. 16 tweet, Ressa wrote that a court order has prevented her from leaving the Philippines, issued only a few hours before she was scheduled to get on a flight to John F. Kennedy Airport. 

The events around Alumni Day are only the latest step amid years of persecution against Ressa in the Philippines, where the journalist and Rappler founder has faced criminal prosecution on charges of cyber libel, which have been heavily criticized by other journalists around the globe as retaliation for her reporting on the corruption in the Duterte regime and been called “a blow to freedom of the press.” 

Ressa tweeted on Feb. 16, “Not such a good morning :( I should have landed in JFK a few hours ago for a short trip to receive an award from @Princeton Saturday. I received court approvals from 6 of 7 charges, but the 7th court order was released a few hours before I was supposed to get on the flight.”


She followed up with another tweet, which explained that she would still be able to attend events at both the University and her high school, Toms River High School North, if allowed to leave the Philippines Thursday night.

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“The randomness is a mind game, but it doesn't defeat me,” she wrote. “Makes me more resolute to demand justice.”

In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Ressa wrote, “I've learned that you really don't appreciate your rights until you lose them. I still have faith, and I hope that my track record will show that I plan to face - and win - these charges in court.” 

“I have done nothing wrong but to be a journalist - and journalism is not a crime,” she said in the email.

University Spokesperson Ben Chang said in an email to the ‘Prince’ that the University remains hopeful she will be able to arrive on campus in time for the ceremony. 

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“Maria — through her perseverance, courage, and quest for justice in the face of constant challenge — continues to inspire us,” Chang wrote. “We hope she can return to her alma mater and attend Alumni Day in person but look forward to celebrating her achievements and lasting impact at Princeton and beyond either way.”

Ressa was scheduled to attend Alumni Day to receive her award and was later scheduled to participate in a panel about reporting on oppressive governments through the University’s Program in Journalism.  

Joe Stephens, Director of the Program in Journalism and the panel’s moderator, said in an email to the ‘Prince,’ that while he has no “direct knowledge of Maria’s current travel status, other than from her tweet,” he hopes that “she will be able to participate in our long-planned panel discussion on Thursday, whether in person or via Zoom.” 

“She is an inspiring and courageous woman, as are our other intrepid panelists. It goes without saying that this is a great time to be talking seriously about reporting on regressive governments,” he added. “With luck, recent developments will turn out an even larger crowd. It’s a bold demonstration that everyone needs to be hearing about, and thinking about, these disturbing international developments.” 

In 2018, Ressa was named Time’s Person of The Year, and in 2021, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Editors Note: This piece has been updated to include comment from Maria Ressa, and update her current travel status. 

Sidney Singer is an Assistant News Editor who has covered a variety of news on and around campus. She can be reached at sidneysinger@princeton.edu, on Twitter @sidneylsinger, or on Instagram @sidneysinger.

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