The Public Media Alliance condemns the guilty verdict against Rappler founder and editor-in-chief, Maria Ressa, and journalist, Reynaldo Santos Jr, under the Cybercrime Prevention Act as a further attack on press freedom in the Philippines.

Prominent journalist Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr, face up to six years in prison after they were found guilty of “cyber libel” charges related to an article published on the Rappler website in 2012, which describes the alleged links between a businessman and a high court judge.

Ressa and Santos were accused in 2017 under a law that was brought into force four months after the publication of the 2012 article. They are now entitled to post-conviction bail and can lodge an appeal, but they have been ordered to pay close to US$8,000 (P400,000) in “moral and exemplary” damages.

While the verdict found Rappler to have no liability, seven spurious cases remain pending against Ressa, which could lead to decades in prison.

Read more: Maria Ressa, Rey Santos Jr convicted of cyber libel

The case has been widely condemned as politically motivated and the latest attempt to muzzle critical independent media, and further diminish the country’s fragile press freedom under President Duterte.

Just last month, the Philippines’ government shutdown the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN by issuing a cease-and-desist order. New anti-terror laws are a further threat to government critics and journalists, which allow warrantless arrests and prolonged detention without charge.

Read more: Maria Ressa: Rappler editor found guilty of cyber libel charges in Philippines

Speaking at a press conference after the verdict on 15 June, Ressa said:

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.”

 “Are we going to lose freedom of the press? Will it be death by a thousand cuts, or are we going to hold the line so that we protect the rights that are enshrined in our constitution?”

Continuing, Ressa said: “Today the judiciary became complicit in this insidious campaign to silence independent journalism and stifle press freedom. But neither I nor Rappler will be silenced. I will fight this conviction, and I will continue to do my duty, to speak out and report the truth.”

Maria Ressa’s international legal team, led by Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC , condemned today’s verdict. Ms Gallagher said:

“Independent journalism in the Philippines is an act of bravery. At least 16 journalists have been killed since President Duterte came to office in 2016, and today’s verdict comes just weeks since the country’s largest media network was shut down. Maria Ressa’s conviction on baseless charges, for an article she did not write, under a draconian law which did not exist when the article was published, is an ugly stain on the Philippines’ reputation. The international community must condemn this grave attack on independent journalism and media freedom in the strongest terms.”  

In 2018, Ressa was named among Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for her critical and courageous reporting on President Duterte’s war on drugs.

Rappler has provided much needed independent and quality investigative journalism to the Filipino public, with their journalists playing an indispensable role in holding power to account and exposing human rights abuses under the Duterte administration. Such journalism is needed now more than ever, and this verdict only acts as a further blow to press freedom and the country’s fragile democracy.

Header Image: Maria Ressa, Rey Santos Jr convicted of cyber libel. Credit: Rappler