Duterte Critic Maria Ressa Convicted of Cyber Libel in the Philippines: “Politically Motivated”

Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was convicted of “cyber libel” on Monday, CNN reports.

Ressa, the founder of Rappler, along with journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty on Monday and face between six months and seven years in prison.

The case was based on a 2012 report that alleged businessman Wilfredo Keng had ties to drugs and human trafficking even though the article was published two years before the country’s new cyber libel laws went into effect.

Prosecutors argued that a correction added to the story after the law was enacted counted as a “republication” and therefore subject to the new law.

“An affront to the rule of law”:

Ressa told reporters after the verdict that it was “not unexpected.”

"We will keep fighting," she said. "I appeal to you, the journalists in the room the Philippines who have been listening — to protect your rights. We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid. So I appeal again. Not be afraid. Because it you don't use your rights, you will lose them."

Ressa’s attorney Amal Clooney said that the ruling was "an affront to the rule of law, a stark warning to the press, and a blow to democracy in the Philippines."

A spokesman for Duterte said the ruling should be “respected.”

"The President believes in freedom of thought and speech," spokesman Harry Roque said. "It's important that we face the challenges of the public, especially from the media."

“Politically motivated”:

JJ Disini, another attorney for Ressa, argued that the charges were “politically motivated” and that the correction made to the article was “merely a punctuation change.”

"If the libel had been committed way back in 2012, a change in punctuation couldn't have republished that libel," he said.

Rappler has frequently investigated Dutere and his allies.

Ressa, a TIME Person of the Year, has been previously indicted on libel and tax evasion charges.

"If you're a reporter in the Philippines, this is part of daily life. It's like pollution in the air,” she said. "When we look back a decade from now, we at Rappler will know that we have done everything we could.”


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