Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa Convicted in Cyber Libel Case
“We are going to stand up against attacks against press freedom,” the co-founder of news site Rappler said.
Reputed Philippine journalist Maria Ressa was on Monday, 15 June, convicted of cyber libel in a 2017 case, with many condemning it as an instance of undermining of press freedom in the country.
The 56-year-old co-founder of news website Rappler has been allowed to remain free on bail pending an appeal, but can face up to six years in prison in connection with the case, reported news agency AFP.
The case relates to a 2012 story on the site, written by Reynaldo Santos (who was also convicted on Monday), on a businessman's links with a judge of the high court. A complaint by the businessman in question was filed in 2017.
‘A Cautionary Tale’
After the ruling in the case, Ressa condemned the attacks against press freedom. "We are going to stand up against any kind of attacks against press freedom. It is a blow to us. But it is also not unexpected. We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid. But don't be afraid. Because if you don't use your rights, you will lose them," she was quoted as saying.
Many have denounced the targeting of Ressa and Rappler in Philippines, with Amnesty International saying they are "being singled out for their critical reporting of (President Rodrigo Duterte's) administration."
According to The Guardian, apart from this cyber libel case, a slew of other cases have also been mounted against Ressa, including cases alleging illegal foreign ownership in her companies as well as investigations into her old tax returns.
Duterte, on the other hand, has termed Rappler as a "fake news outlet", while rejecting the assertion that the case is politically motivated.
‘A Dark Day’
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called it ‘a dark day’ for independent Philippine media.
"The verdict basically kills freedom of speech and of the press. But we will not be cowed. We will continue to stand our ground against all attempts to suppress our freedoms," the statement read, as per Al Jazeera.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) described the latest development as "a menacing blow to press freedom".
Journalists said that while freedom of the press is guaranteed under the constitution, the country is ‘one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists,’ BBC News quoted US-based Freedom House as saying.
“Private militias, often hired by local politicians, silence journalists with complete impunity,” said Reporters Without Borders, the report added.
Many journalists criticised the President Duterte saying under his regime media has been subject to a lot of pressure and retaliation from the government.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, urged the United Nations to start an urgent international investigation ‘into the country's human rights crisis, in line with the recent conclusions of the UN Human Rights office itself,’ said a media report.
Journalists across the world shared words of support and encouragement.
(With inputs from AFP, The Guardian, BBC Al Jazeera.)
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