The United States has expressed concern over the guilty verdict handed down by a Manila court on the cyber libel case against journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.
“The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the US and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday.
Former US State Secretary Hillary Clinton also slammed the Manila court’s guilty verdict, saying Ressa was convicted “for doing her job.”
“We must fiercely protest attacks on the press. They are attacks on democracy,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.
On Monday, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over a case involving businessman Wilfredo Keng.
The subject of the cyber libel case was a 2012 article written by Santos claiming that Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The same article also cited an intelligence report that said Keng had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng filed the cyber libel complaint in 2017 or five years after the article was first posted and three years after it was supposedly re-posted due to typographical error.
Following Ressa and Santos’ guilty verdict, opposition senators and journalism organizations slammed the conviction, with some saying that it sends a “chilling message” against critics of the Duterte administration.
Meanwhile, Keng said the conviction of Ressa and Santos vindicated him “at least, to the extent possible considering that the damage had already been done.”
“Even today, when the truth should have set me free, Rappler’s lies still resound after the bang of the gavel has faded away,” he said in a statement.
But Rappler said the Manila court’s decision “sets a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online.”
“The decision today marks not the rule of law, but the rule of law twisted to suit the interests of those in power who connive to satisfy their mutually beneficial personal and political agenda,” the media company said in a statement.
“Today marks diminished freedom and more threats to democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, especially in the context of a looming anti-terrorism law,” it added. (Source: INQUIRER.net)