Philippines journalist known for investigating Duterte convicted of 'cyber libel'

Philippines journalist known for investigating Duterte convicted of 'cyber libel'

A Filipino American journalist with a history of critical coverage of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was convicted of "cyber libel" on Monday, raising concerns over growing constraints on freedom of speech in the country. 

Maria Ressa and colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted under a law passed in 2012 criminalizing a wide range of internet-based offenses including identity theft and libel, CNN reported.

The article in question, published on the online news website Rappler founded by Ressa that same year, linked a wealthy Filipino businessman to drug smuggling and human trafficking. Though it went live before the law went into effect, a court decided that a recent correction made to the article constituted a republication of the entire piece.

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Ressa and the Rappler website have been targeted under anti-press laws in the past, which many have claimed is retribution for the site's critical coverage of Duterte's war on drug dealers, which has left more than 5,000 dead by official counts.

"We will keep fighting," she said in a statement following the ruling, according to CNN. "I appeal to you, the journalists in the room the Philippines who have been listening — to protect your rights. We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid. So I appeal again. Not be afraid. Because it you don't use your rights, you will lose them."

Ressa's lawyer contended that the correction made to the article amounted to a "punctuation change" and called the case "politically motivated."

"If the libel had been committed way back in 2012, a change in punctuation couldn't have republished that libel," JJ Disini told CNN.