Rappler chief Maria Ressa found guilty of cyber libel

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 15 2020 09:20 AM | Updated as of Jun 15 2020 10:58 AM

Rappler CEO and journalist Maria Ressa speaks during a press conference after receiving a guilty verdict on cyber libel by the Manila Regional Trial Court on June 15, 2020. Angie De Silva, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was on Monday found guilty of cyber libel over a 2012 article that linked a businessman to alleged illegal activities.

Former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. was also convicted in the case.

Ressa said the court's decision was "devastating" but her camp would "keep fighting."

"I appeal to you, the journalists in room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We’re meant to be a cautionary tale, we are meant to make you afraid. I appeal again, don’t be afraid," she told reporters.

"Because if you don’t use your rights, you will lose them. If we don’t challenge a brazen move to try to roll back the rights guaranteed in the constitution, we will lose them. We shouldn’t be voluntarily giving up our rights."

The 2018 TIME magazine Person of the Year earlier said she was "prepared for the worst" outcome in the case, which resulted in her brief detention in February last year.

Ressa and Santos will remain on bail they previously posted and have been given 15 days to consider their next move, according to their counsel, former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te.

"Obviously legal steps forward would include questioning the decision and the appropriate proceeding. We still have to meet, we’ll have to go over the decision carefully," he said.

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With a conviction, the “message to other journalists and independent voices is clear: Keep quiet, or you’ll be next," said international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Ressa.

“Let’s hope that on Monday a trial judge in Manila will send a very different message. And that if she doesn’t, we will see a robust response,” she added.

Clooney, Britain’s special envoy on media freedom, said the charges leveled against Ressa were "based on a law that violates international standards enshrined in treaties that the Philippines has ratified, by allowing imprisonment as a penalty for allegedly libelous speech.”

Businessman Wilfredo Keng had accused Rappler of smearing his reputation over a May 2012 article alleging that he supposedly allowed former Chief Justice Renato Corona to use an SUV. The same article cited an intelligence report alleging Keng had a shady past.

The news website argued that the Anti-Cybercrime Law was approved months later, in September 2012. Keng denied the allegations and requested that the article be taken down, which the news website refused to do.

Rappler and Ressa are also facing charges of tax fraud, violation of the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti-Dummy Law among others.

Rappler, which has published stories critical of the administration, has described cases and acts against it as an attack on press freedom.

--With reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News