A Philippines court on Monday found journalist Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr, a former researcher guilty of cyber libel.
Mrs. Ressa heads the embattled Rappler news organization renowned for critiquing President Rodrigo Duterte.
The controversial case symbolizes the erosion of democracy and freedom in the country. The two face charges for an article published by the website in 2012.
However, the court ruled they could post bail and pay an added $8,000 for damages. They could face between six months to six years in prison.
Media organizations and human rights watchdogs have condemned the move terming it politically instigated harassment.
Rappler continuously remained at the forefront for expository features regarding the fight against drugs in the country that left many people dead. The news further evoked a lot of condemnation from the United Nations.
“To all Filipinos watching these happenings, everything isn’t about Rappler. It goes beyond our news website, fighting for the justice of the people in this country. Since press freedom remains the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen,” stated Ressa after the verdict, her voice breaking momentarily.
Ressa’s conviction comes at a time when Duerte and his close associates widen the campaigns against critics to his administration.
Recently, authorities closed down one of the country’s largest broadcasting corporation. They further pushed for an uninterrupted broadly defined anti-terrorism bill.
According to experts, the law allows them to crack down on democratic leaders disparagers.
Once considered the freest place offering press freedom in Asia, the Philippines quickly turned out as a dangerous country for journalists.
In 2020, it moved down to 136th position in the World Press Freedom Index. The case facing Ressa emanates from a 2012 article written by Santos.
The material quoted an intelligence report regarding businessman Wilfredo Keng for smuggling and trafficking drugs.
However, Keng denied the allegations and filed a complaint in 2017, leading the justice department to indict Santos and Ressa last year.