Maria Ressa, Philippine journalist critical of Duterte, convicted of libel

(Bloomberg) — Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, who heads news site Rappler Inc. that’s been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, was found guilty in a libel case seen as a test for press freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.

A Manila court on Monday convicted Ressa, who was accused by a businessman of cyber libel for publishing an allegedly defamatory article in 2012 linking him to trafficking and drug smuggling, CNN Philippines reported. Ressa was sentenced to up to 6 years in jail, but can post bail and appeal the ruling.

“The government, in getting this case to the court, had to do legal acrobatics,” Ressa, who’s also facing cases for alleged tax evasion and media foreign ownership violation, told ABS-CBN News over the weekend. “We have done nothing wrong.”

Ressa’s online libel case “sets a dangerous precedent” and “is seen deleterious to press freedom,” said journalism professor Danilo Arao from the University of the Philippines. It may also have a chilling effect on social media users critical of the government, he added.

Duterte’s government values free speech and upholds press freedom “by safeguarding the media environment and the media workers,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a June 5 statement. Last month, the Philippines’ largest broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. was ordered shut by the government after its permit lapsed.

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