Journalist Convicted of Cyber Libel

 A Philippine journalist has been  convicted of cyber libel and now will face up to six years in jail. The verdict widely viewed as a test of press freedoms and attempt to silence government critics. Maria Ressa, the Founder of the Philippine news website Rappler, has been very vocal about holding Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte accountable for the government’s much-criticised violent war on drugs. 

The Rappler news site has been the target of a series of criminal charges and probes after publishing stories critical of the President Rodrigo Duterte's policies, including his drug war that has killed thousands of people. Maria Ressa is an award-winning former CNN journalist and she is now sentenced to up to six years' jail in the culmination of a case that has drawn international concern.

The verdict was issued by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa in the Philippine capital, Manila, on a case that stems from a businessman's 2017 complaint over a Rappler story five years earlier about his alleged ties to a then-judge on the nation's top court.

Ressa, who was named as a Time magazine Person of the Year in 2018, did not write the article and government investigators initially dismissed the businessman's allegation. But state prosecutors later filed charges against her and Reynaldo Santos, the former Rappler journalist who wrote it, under a controversial cyber-crime statute aimed at online offences such as stalking and child pornography. 

The law they are accused of violating took effect in September 2012, months after the article was published. But prosecutors say Rappler's typographical correction to the story in 2014 to change "evision" to "evasion" was a substantial modification and the article was thus covered by the law.

Human rights groups and press advocates say the libel charge along with a series of tax cases against Rappler, and a government move to strip the news site of its licence, amount to state harassment.The Philippines has fallen in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index to 136 out of 180 nations and territories.

Ressa's verdict comes just over a month after government regulators forced off the air the nation's top broadcaster ABS-CBN, following years of threats by Presifent Duterte to shut down the network.

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