Rappler boss Maria Ressa in court for cyber libel verdict

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 15 2020 08:20 AM | Updated as of Jun 15 2020 09:16 AM

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa, center, is escorted as she arrives to attend a court hearing at Manila Regional Trial Court, on Monday June 15, 2020. Ressa's verdict is expected to be announced Monday for a cyber libel case. Aaron Favila, AP

MANILA - Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrived in court Monday for the verdict in a cyber libel case that she and watchdogs say is aimed at silencing critics of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Ressa, Rappler, and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were accused of defaming businessman Wilfredo Keng in an article published in May 2012.

Monday's verdict in Manila will decide a trial that stems 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 offenses such as stalking and child pornography.

The law they are accused of violating took effect in September 2012, months after the article was published.

But prosecutors say Rappler's typographical correction to the story in 2014 to change "evation" to "evasion" was a substantial modification and the article was thus covered by the law.

Aside from the cyberlibel case, Rappler and Ressa are facing charges of tax fraud, violating the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti-Dummy Law, among others.

The award-winning journalist has said that the charges against her and Rappler are the current administration's way of intimidating those who seek to hold government to account, a claim dismissed by Malacañang officials.

-- with a report from Agence France-Presse