Manila, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- Journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines has been charged for a second time with cyber libel following a lawsuit filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in February for sharing a screenshot of an article that was allegedly defamatory towards him.
Ressa, 57, was once already found guilty of cyber libel in June for a 2012 article on news portal Rappler – which she runs – on corruption in the judicial system, while also mentioning Wilfredo Keng’s illicit activities and his alleged involvement in a murder case.
The renowned journalist – elected Time magazine’s 2018 person of the year – faces between six months and six years in prison for the June conviction, which she has appealed.
Following the first cyber libel lawsuit filed by Keng in 2017 against Ressa and journalist Reynaldo Santos – who wrote the report – in February 2019, the Rappler boss shared a screenshot on twitter of a 2002 Philstar newspaper article that also mentioned Keng’s involvement in a murder.
On the same day Ressa shared the screen, the Philstar removed the concerned article from its website in the face of threats of legal action from Keng, but the reporter refused to take down her tweet.
“This is uncharted territory for the new Philippine cybercrime law,” Rapper said in its editorial on Friday explaining this new case against its chief, who has sought a dismissal of the latest cyber libel charge that was formally filed on Nov. 23.
“We are alarmed by this escalation of threats against Maria Ressa and call on the Duterte regime to cease its baseless legal attacks on Ressa and Rappler in an attempt to silence their public interest reporting,” the steering committee of #HoldTheLine – a group of local and international organizations supporting Ressa – said in a statement on Thursday.
Several human rights organizations and advocates of press freedom have claimed that Ressa is the victim of judicial harassment orchestrated by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has not hidden his animosity towards Rappler.
Ressa faces eight other criminal cases related to tax evasion and the country’s media act. She has attributed them to a “political persecution” as a result of Rappler’s critical reporting concerning Duterte’s management and the abuses during his the war on drugs.
The conviction of Ressa and Santos for cyber libel in June was highly questioned by legal experts, as the law concerned has a prescription period of one year, but Keng’s lawsuit came five years after the report was published.
To admit the lawsuit, the Department of Justice relied on a recent law that lengthened the prescription period for cybercrime to 12 years.
However, it was applied retroactively, as the cybercrime law was passed after the report was published.
The prosecution relied on a typographical error that was corrected in 2014, to claim the report was republished, thus circumventing hurdle of applying the law retroactively, which is otherwise illegal.
While Keng has claimed to have no ties to Duterte, his daughter Patricia was appointed by the president in 2019 as a member of the Philippine Commission on Women, raising suspicions about a government hand in the cases against Ressa. EFE-EPA