Jun 15, 2020 - World

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa convicted of cyber libel in Philippines

Ressa arrives in court today. Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

A court in the Philippines has convicted Maria Ressa, chief of the news site Rappler, of cyber libel in a trial that has been closely watched because of its implications for press freedom in the country.

Driving the news: Ressa and co-defendant Reynaldo Santos Jr were sentenced to between six months to six years in prison, but were granted bail pending appeals that could ultimately come before the supreme court. Ressa and Rappler have drawn the ire of strongman President Rodrigo Duterte for their critical coverage.

Details: The case stemmed from a May 2012 article written by Santos Jr about a businessman with links to the government.

  • The law used against Ressa was passed months later, in September 2012. It was not until 5 years later that the case was filed.
  • That would be beyond the one-year window for ordinary libel claims, but that limit is not mentioned in the newer cybercrime law.
  • The Philippine justice department also argued that since the article was updated in 2014 — to correct a minor typographical error — it would be covered by the law.
  • Rappler is facing at least 11 additional government investigations and legal cases.

What to watch: This is also a test case for the cyber libel law, which could ultimately be applied to anything posted online — not just from media outlets.

The big picture: A major broadcaster was recently pulled off the air in the Philippines, in a further erosion media independence under Duterte.

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Editor's note: The author is a journalist for Rappler. She is currently in the U.S., and at Axios, on a fellowship program.

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