Philippine Nobel laureate Maria Ressa appeals to Supreme Court

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa said she was ‘sadly not surprised’ by the court’s rejection of her appeal against libel conviction.

Renowned Philippine journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa plans to fight her conviction for libel at the country’s highest court following the rejection of her appeal in the case that carries a lengthy prison term.

In a ruling on Tuesday, the Court of Appeals rejected a motion by Ressa to reconsider its upholding of a 2020 conviction against her and a former colleague for “cyber libel”, a move that lawyer Theodore “Ted” Te said was “disappointing”.

Their case would now be elevated to the Supreme Court, Te said.

Ressa said she was disappointed but “sadly not surprised” by the appeals court decision.

“This is a reminder of the importance of independent journalism holding power to account,” she said in a statement.

“Despite these sustained attacks from all sides, we continue to focus on what we do best – journalism,” she said.

Ressa, the executive editor of the news website Rappler, and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr were sentenced in 2020 to between a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail.

Becoming the first journalists in the Philippines to be convicted for “cyber libel”, they were allowed to post bail, pending their appeal against the conviction.

“The ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against me and Rappler continues, and the Philippines legal system is not doing enough to stop it,” Ressa also said in a statement.

Journalists, including Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, raise their smartphones with the words ‘STOP THE ATTACKS!’ in a rally for press freedom in Quezon City, Philippines in 2019 [File: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

Ressa had long been a vocal critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, triggering what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, inquiries and online attacks against her and Rappler.

She and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression”.

Rappler’s lawyer Te said in a statement that the latest appeal rejection “ignored basic principles of constitutional and criminal law as well as the evidence presented”.

The cyber-libel case against Ressa and her publication stemmed from a 2017 complaint filed by a businessman over a Rappler story that was published in 2012, before the cybercrime law was passed.

The libel complaint was dismissed in 2018, but the National Bureau of Investigation reversed the decision and recommended to the justice ministry that Ressa and Santos Jr, be prosecuted.

Prosecutors said they were only following the law.

At around the same time, Duterte had sought to close Rappler for alleged foreign ownership and tax evasion, allegations Rappler denied.

The news site had attracted Duterte’s ire for its relentless coverage of his so-called “war on drugs” during which thousands of people died.

Rappler also exposed a pro-Duterte network circulating alleged fake news on social media.

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