cyber libel in the Philippines

International lawyers condemn 3rd cyber libel charge vs Maria Ressa

Camille Elemia
International lawyers condemn 3rd cyber libel charge vs Maria Ressa

'LEGAL CHARADE.' Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrives at the Makati City Hall on December 15, 2020, for a hearing on a second cyber libel case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a tweet.

File photo by Rappler

'It is the latest step in the Philippine government's increasingly transparent campaign to silence her and shut down her news site,' says Amal Clooney, international legal counsel of Maria Ressa

International lawyers of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa condemned the issuance of a 10th arrest warrant, arising from a third cyber libel charge, against her.

Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who both lead the international legal team of Ressa, slammed the Philippine government’s campaign against Ressa and Rappler’s independent reporting.

“Here we go again: This is now the tenth arrest warrant issued against Ms Ressa, and the third libel prosecution for a public interest story. It is the latest step in the Philippine government’s increasingly transparent campaign to silence her and shut down her news site, just as they shut down the leading broadcaster in the country,” Clooney said, referring to the government-backed closure of ABS-CBN.

“We hope that defenders of democracy will stand up for the press and that Philippine judges will put an end to this legal charade,” Clooney added.

Gallagher, citing the United Nations Human Rights Committee, said cyber libel should not be a crime – a call shared by Rappler and other Filipino journalists.

“This is the latest reprehensible attempt by the authorities in the Philippines to penalize Ms Ressa for her courageous and brave reporting, this time through a nonsensical ‘cyber libel’ prosecution, threatening her with imprisonment for an article she did not write and did not edit,” Gallagher said.

Urging EU, international community to act

Gallagher also called on the European Union to call on the Philippine government to drop all charges against Ressa.

“But above all else, the international community must not stand for this campaign of persecution against Ms Ressa and this ongoing assault on freedom of expression and democratic values. The European Union is a champion of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law worldwide, and it has a close and longstanding relationship with the Philippines. Now is the time for the European Union to make clear to the government of the Philippines that this reprehensible conduct must end, and all charges against Ms Ressa must be dropped,” Gallagher said.

This is the first libel case of Talabong and the 10th criminal case filed by the Philippine government against Ressa.

Three of these cases – this one included – are related to cyber libel. Ressa is appealing her first cyber libel conviction at the Court of Appeals over a story involving businessman Wilfredo Keng, and faces a second cyber libel charge at the Makati RTC for tweeting about the same story.

Ressa and Rappler face 5 tax cases, for which trial will resume on February 3. This is in addition to consolidated anti-dummy and violation of securities code charges.

The United States Congress earlier identified Ressa as among the journalists needing protection under a law imposing sanctions on foreign government officials involved in the intimidation of independent journalists.

The European Parliament had also called for the dropping of all “politically motivated charges” against Ressa and her colleagues. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com