Maria Ressa, ex-Rappler writer appeal cyber libel conviction before Manila court

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Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos appeal cyber libel conviction before Manila court. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 29) — Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos on Monday appealed their cyber libel conviction before a Manila court.

Ressa and Santos' lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group submitted a 132-page motion to Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46, urging Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa to reconsider her decision to convict the journalists of cyber libel.

“We have to acknowledge the real uses of criminal libel if we are to be consistent to protect speech made to make public officers and government accountable. Criminal libel has an in terrorem effect that is inconsistent with the contemporary protection of the primordial and necessary right of expression enshrined in our Constitution," the motion said.

"The review should include a consideration of the nature of cyberspace as layered communities used to evolve ideas. Such review should result in a declaration of unconstitutionality of criminal libel in the Revised Penal Code and in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012," it added.

The motion cited at least 13 errors committed by Montesa in her verdict, including the consideration of complainant Wilfredo Keng as a private citizen, the court defining updating a story as republication, and the court's characterization of Ressa's title as unwarranted and prejudicial.

"To the mind of the court, Rappler's scheme of not using the term "editor in chief" in its organizational structure is a clever ruse to avoid liability," the motion said.

"There is absolutely no basis for this statement," it added. "The court's role in the trial is to determine malice, not make malicious statements."

The motion also said in Judge Montesa's process of arriving at her decision, "the court has resorted to language that borders on the sarcastic and, at times, crosses over to the partial."

The case stemmed from a 2012 Rappler investigative article, which reported on businessman Wilfredo Keng’s alleged connection to illegal activities. However, the article was published two years before the cyber libel law came into effect in the Philippines.

Prosecutors argued that a correction made to the story after the law passed constituted a "republication" and meant it could be considered as cyber libel.

On June 15, the court found both Ressa and Santos guilty of the offense, sentencing both journalists to up to six years in jail for violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Opposition groups, human rights advocates and netizens in the country and abroad slammed the decision in the high-profile case, saying it was a blow to press freedom in the Philippines.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.