Philippine journalist, Maria Ressa, found guilty of cyber libel

In a case seen as a test of the Philippines’ media freedom, journalist Maria Ressa has been found guilty of cyber libel.

According to a BBC report,  Ressa denied the charges and claimed they were politically motivated.

A former writer for her news site, Rappler, was also convicted. Both have been released on bail pending appeal, but could face six years in prison.

Press freedom advocates say the trial is aimed at silencing critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.

But the president and his supporters have accused her, and her site, of reporting fake news.

In a country where journalists are under threat, Ms Ressa’s case became symbolic and closely-followed – both domestically and internationally.

What was she accused of?

The case against her relates to an eight-year-old Rappler story on businessman Wilfredo Keng’s alleged ties to a former judge.

The prosecution came under a “cyber-libel” law which came into force in September 2012 – four months after Rappler published the article.

But prosecutors said a correction to the story in 2014 – to fix a “typo” – meant the article was covered by the law.

The judge on Monday said Rappler offered no proof to back up its allegations against Mr Keng.

Judge Rainelda Montea added that her verdict was based on evidence presented to the court – adding that freedom of the press “cannot be used as a shield” against libel.

Ms Ressa, 56, and her colleague were allowed to remain free on bail, pending a possible appeal.

But if the conviction stands, it carries a sentence of up to six years.

“To all Filipinos, this isn’t just about Rappler, this isn’t just about us, this is about every one of us,” Ms Ressa said after the verdict.

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen.”

Who is Maria Ressa?

Born in the Philippines, Ms Ressa grew up in the US and only returned to the country in the 1980s after the fall of authoritarian leader Ferdinand Marcos.

A former CNN journalist, she founded Rappler in 2012. It is one of the few local sites to openly criticise the Duterte administration and its brutal war on drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives.

Rappler and Ms Ressa have also been targeted in other court cases, ranging from tax evasion to foreign ownership violations.

 

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