Maria Ressa, executive editor and CEO of Philippine news website Rappler, faces the media with former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr., and lawyer Ted Te, after being found guilty of cyber libel, in Manila, the Philippines, on June 15, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

CPJ calls on Philippine authorities not to contest editor Maria Ressa’s cyber libel appeal

Bangkok, June 15, 2020 — Philippine authorities should not contest the appeal of journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos, and should reform the country’s libel laws to ensure that members of the press do not face jail time for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

This morning, Branch 46 of the Manila Regional Trial Court convicted Ressa, editor of the privately owned Rappler news website, and Santos, a former researcher at the outlet, of cyber libel, a criminal offense, according to a report by Rappler. Both are free on bail pending their appeal, according to that report.

The court ordered each journalist to pay 400,000 pesos ($7,950) in fines and moral damages, and sentenced each to a minimum of six months and one day and a maximum of six years in jail; neither will be jailed or required to pay the fines while their appeal is pending, according to Rappler and other news reports.

“We call on the Philippine authorities not to contest Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos’ appeals and to stop their campaign of legal harassment against Rappler and other independent media outlets,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The criminal prosecution of journalists for their work has no place in a country that purports to be a democracy.”

The case stemmed from a May 2012 Rappler report on local businessman Wilfredo Keng’s alleged ties to a former judge and purported links to drug and human trafficking rings, and was pursued under a cyber libel law that was enacted in September 2012, according to those news reports.

At a news conference after the verdict was announced, Ressa said the outcome was “not unexpected” and that “we will keep fighting,” NPR reported.

In 2018, CPJ presented Ressa with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in recognition of her journalistic courage in the face of persistent official harassment.

Ressa faces at least seven other cases in relation to her outlet’s coverage, Rappler reported.

CPJ emailed the Philippine Department of Justice for comment, but did not immediately receive any response.