Philippines journalist and outspoken Duterte critic found guilty of cyber libel in a major blow to the country's press freedom
A court in the Philippines has convicted Maria Ressa, the editor of the influential local news site Rappler Inc., of cyber libel, in a major blow to the country's eroding press freedom. Rappler has provoked the ire of the Duterte administration for its fearless coverage and criticism of Duterte's war on drugs. Ressa and a former Rappler writer-researcher named Reynaldo Santos Jr. face up to six years in prison under the country's cyber libel laws. International rights groups have spoken out against the guilty verdict and have said that the move is aimed at shutting down criticism of the Duterte government. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
A court in the Philippines has convicted a veteran journalist and outspoken critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte of cyber libel in a major blow to the country's eroding press freedom. Maria Ressa, 56, is the editor of Rappler Inc., an influential online news website that has provoked the ire of the Duterte administration for its coverage. Ressa was also included in Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2018 as part of a collection of journalists praised for safeguarding the truth in their coverage. According to ABS-CBN, a local TV network was effectively shut down by Duterte in May, Ressa and a former colleague face up to six years in prison. The allegations of cyber libel stem from a 2012 Rappler article that tied local businessman Wilfredo Keng to a former judge facing impeachment. According to ABS-CBN, the Philippines passed its Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 months after the Rappler article mentioning Keng was written. After several years of back and forth between Keng and Rappler to have his name scrubbed from the article, Keng filed a complaint with the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation, accusing Ressa and Rappler of defamation. According to The New York Times, the Philippines court on Monday local time declared that Rappler was not legally responsible in the cyber libel case, instead pinning blame on Ressa and a former Rappler writer-researcher named Reynaldo Santos Jr. According to The Guardian, they are entitled to bail and can appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Ressa has denied the charges and said they were aimed at silencing critics of the Duterte administration. "Corrupt, coerce, co-opt. You're with us or against us," she said in an interview with The Times last week. "If I'm convicted, then it's codified into law." International rights groups have spoken out against the guilty verdict and have said that the move is aimed at shutting down criticism of the Duterte government. "Today's conviction and sentencing of Maria Ressa of up to six years in jail is an outrageous crime against press freedom," Shawn Crispin, the Committee to Protect Journalism's senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement. "Although out on bail while she appeals the verdict, Ressa's wrongful conviction sends a message to all journalists that you could be next if you report critically on President Rodrigo Duterte's government." The Press Freedom Defense Fund, which provides legal support for journalists and news organizations targeted for their coverage, condemned the move and said the decision was "not based on evidence," but rather based on "the government's fear of a free press." "While Maria may be sent to prison, Filipinos find themselves increasingly imprisoned in a nation without access to fundamental rights," the statement said. "Maria has inspired so many with her courage and integrity," the statement added. "Now with this unjust ruling, even more people will take note of her vigorous dedication to and defense of those values. President Duterte has sought to have her silenced and sidelined. Instead, he has brought a brighter light and broader support to her cause." Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Inside London during COVID-19 lockdown
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