Maria Ressa: convicted for cyber libel in the Philippines

AGENCY REPORT

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa was convicted Monday of cyber libel and faces up to six years behind bars.

The case marks, what watchdogs said, is a dangerous erosion of press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ressa, 56, and her news site Rappler have been the target of a series of criminal charges and probes after publishing stories critical of Duterte’s policies.

Some of the stories focused on Duterte’s drug war that has killed thousands.

The award-winning former CNN journalist was sentenced to to six years’ jail in the culmination of a case that has drawn international concern.

It was not immediately clear how long she would actually have to serve if the conviction becomes final.

On Monday, Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa allowed Ressa to remain free on bail pending an appeal.

“We are going to stand up against any kind of attacks against press freedom,” a defiant Ressa told journalists after the conviction in Manila.

“I began as a reporter in 1986 and I have worked in so many countries around the world, I have been shot at and threatened but never this kind of death by a thousand cuts,” she said.

Monday’s verdict decided a trial that stemmed from a businessman’s 2017 complaint over a Rappler story five years earlier about his alleged ties to a then-judge on the nation’s top court.

Ressa, who Time magazine named as a Person of the Year in 2018, did not write the article and government investigators initially dismissed the businessman’s allegation.

But state prosecutors later filed charges against her and Reynaldo Santos, the former Rappler journalist who wrote it, under a controversial cyber crime statute aimed at online offences such as stalking and child pornography.

Santos was also found guilty on Monday and allowed to remain free on bail.

Duterte’s government has said the case is not politically motivated and that authorities must enforce the law, even against journalists.

But rights groups and press advocates say the libel charge along with a series of tax cases against Rappler, and a government move to strip the news site of its licence, amount to state harassment.

“Ressa… and the Rappler team are being singled out for their critical reporting of the Duterte administration,” Amnesty International said.