Cyber libel conviction devastating: Filipino journalist

Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, who was convicted on Monday in a cyber libel case for which she faces up to six years in prison, described the verdict as “devastating”.

“The decision for me is devastating because it essentially says that we are wrong,” Efe news quoted Ressa as saying to the media on her way out of the court after the announcement of the verdict.

“It’s a blow to us, but it’s also not unexpected considering we are going to stand up against any kind of attack against press freedom.”

Ressa, named 2018 Person of the Year by TIME magazine, in 2012 founded Rappler, a media outlet that has uncovered several scandals involving President Rodrigo Duterte and was first in reporting abuses committed in the war on drugs campaign he launched after coming to power in 2016.

She was convicted along with Reynaldo Santos over an article written by Santos that Rappler published in May 2012, which quoted an intelligence report linking businessman and complainant Wilfredo Keng to drug trafficking.

They are the first two journalists in the Philippines convicted of cyber libel.

The pair, who are out on bail as the case can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, have also been told to pay compensation of 400,000 pesos ($8,000) to the businessman.

Rappler as a company was determined to have no liability.

Ressa has called the lawsuit a case of “selective justice” that seeks to punish her for Rappler’s critical reporting that has annoyed Duterte and to serve as a warning to the rest of the media in the Philippines.

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen,” 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,” added the journalist, who was formerly a CNN Southeast Asia investigative reporter and headed the news division of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest media group.

“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. If we can’t do our jobs then your rights will be lost.”

In February 2019, the Department of Justice brought charges of cyber libel against Ressa and Santos as well as Rappler as a corporation, by accepting a lawsuit filed by Keng in October 2017, five years after the article was published.

This is not the only judicial process against the award-winning journalist, who has at least seven other cases pending, which she said Monday were a “whole slew of other cases of tax evasion and a whole slew based on foreign ownership and securities fraud”.

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