Philippines: Maria Ressa, critical journalist for Duterte, guilty of defamation

MANILA | Filipino journalist Maria Ressa was found guilty on Monday in a Manila court and faces up to six years in prison in a defamation case presented by her supporters as an attempt to muzzle critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Maria Ressa, 56, is the co-founder of the online news site Rappler, who has been the subject of several legal proceedings after publishing critical articles on the policy of the head of state, including his bloody and controversial campaign against trafficking. drug.

The ex-CNN journalist faces up to six years in prison. But it is unclear how long she will have to serve if the sentence becomes final. She was left free pending consideration of her appeal.

“We will resist all attacks on press freedom,” said Ressa, who had been named by Time as one of the personalities of the year in 2018, after speaking out against journalists.

“It is a setback, but it is not unexpected either,” she added. “They’re trying to scare us, but don’t be afraid.”

“Slow death”

“I started my career in 1986 and worked in so many countries. I was shot and threatened, but I had never known this kind of slow death. “, She added

The trial was based on an article written in 2012 on the alleged links between a businessman and the former president of the Supreme Court.

The businessman’s complaint was dismissed in 2017, but the case was later passed on to the prosecution, which decided to prosecute it, as well as the author of the article, former journalist Reynaldo Santos.

The latter was also found guilty and remained free on bail.

The lawsuits are the result of a controversial cybercrime law, cracking down on defamation online, as well as harassment or child pornography. The law entered into force in September 2012, after the article in question was published.

But the prosecution had argued that the correction of a typographical error in 2014 – Rappler had replaced the word “evation” with “evasion” – meant that the article now fell under the law.

“I was warned:” shut up or you will be next … “this is partly why I was targeted,” the graduate journalist from Princeton, who also owns, told AFP last week. American nationality. She revealed that as the manager of Rappler, she sometimes received up to 90 insult messages per hour in late 2016.

The government has dismissed accusations that the case was political, claiming to ensure law enforcement, including for journalists.

Bullying

But human rights groups say the case, tax lawsuits against Rappler and government efforts to withdraw accreditation to the site are harassment.

“Ressa and the Rappler team are targeted for their critical coverage of the Duterte administration,” said Amnesty International.

“With this latest attack on independent media, the Philippines’s human rights record continues to plummet.

Human Rights Watch said the case would “not only have an echo in the Philippines, but also in many countries that saw the country as favorable to press freedom.”

The archipelago has recently plummeted to 136th place (out of 180) in the press freedom ranking established by Reporters Without Borders.

The verdict comes a month after the broadcasts of ABS-CBN, the main Filipino media group, stopped after the government issued a decree ordering their closure.

Mr. Duterte has been threatening for years to shut down ABS-CBN which, like Rappler, widely covered the president’s “war on drugs”, which encouraged police to kill drug traffickers and suspected drug addicts.

Police have killed at least 5,600 people suspected of drug trafficking, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, but organizations estimate the toll is at least three times higher.

Another very critical figure against this war on drug trafficking is Senator Leila de Lima, who has been in detention for three years for drug trafficking.

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