cyber libel in the Philippines

2nd cyber libel charge vs Ressa is absurd, says #HoldTheLineCoalition

2nd cyber libel charge vs Ressa is absurd, says #HoldTheLineCoalition

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa at the Makati City Regional Trial Court in Friday, December 4, for the arraignment on her second online libel case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng against her over a tweet she posted on February 16, 2019. Ressa shared through social media screenshots of a 2002 Philippine Star article which tagged Keng in the killing of a former Manila councilor and other alleged illegal activities.

Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The coalition calls for the charges against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa to be dropped

The #HoldTheLine Coalition condemned the second cyber libel charge against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, calling for the “absurd” charge to be dropped immediately.

“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 #HoldTheLine steering committee said in a statement published on Thursday, December 3.

“It is absurd that a journalist tweeting about another publication’s story could be jailed. We call for the new charge to be dropped immediately, and for Ressa’s conviction on an earlier criminal cyber libel charge to be quashed,” it added.

In charging Ressa before Branch 147 of the Makati Regional Trial Court on November 23, Makati prosecutors said that the journalist’s tweeting of screenshots was not a mere act of sharing – an act which, the Supreme Court earlier ruled, could not be described as criminal because it constitutes mere internet reaction.

On February 16, 2019, Ressa tweeted a 2002 Philstar.com article that linked businessman Wilfredo Keng to murder.

Keng, whose daughter Patricia was appointed to the Philippine Commission on Women in 2019 by President Rodrigo Duterte, used the tweet to file a second cyber libel complaint against Ressa in February 2019. The businessman was also behind the previous cyber libel case in Manila for which Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr were convicted in June.

Hours after Ressa’s tweet, Philstar.com announced it had taken down the article, saying they were threatened with legal action. Press freedom advocates lamented and denounced the move.

Ressa filed a motion to quash on Thursday, December 2, citing a Supreme Court decision that says the supposed aiding and abetting of a cyber crime is not a crime in itself. She appeared in court on Friday, December 4.

The second libel case against the journalist resulted in the 9th arrest warrant against her since Duterte came to power in 2016. She posted bail on November 27.

Ressa and Rappler have faced nearly a dozen government investigations, complaints, and cases, which both say were meant to silence them for their critical reporting. The Makati court case adds to the 7 actual court cases that Rappler and Ressa are faced with.

The #HoldTheLine coalition was formed to defend Ressa after she was convicted of cyber libel in June. It is composed of representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Center for Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders. – Rappler.com

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