In this Feb. 14, 2019 photo, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa shows the release order after she posted bail at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46. Patag
Rappler's Maria Ressa launches defense in cyber libel case
(Agence France-Presse) - December 16, 2019 - 5:50pm

MANILA, Philippines — Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa said Monday she would not be silenced as she launched her defense against a libel charge that press advocates call an attempt to curb her news site's critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Rappler has written extensively and often critically on Duterte's policies, including his deadly "drugs war" that rights groups say may amount to crimes against humanity.

"I can go to jail for 12 years for this (case), that is the maximum sentence," she told reporters outside court after the hearing, noting government investigators had initially dismissed the case.

"From track record you can see the political goals to shut Rappler up... but we haven't shut up yet," said Ressa, who is free on bail.

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Besides the libel case, Ressa and Rappler have been hit with a string of criminal charges in the span of roughly a year, prompting allegations that authorities are targeting her and her team for their work.

Ressa, named a Time Person of the Year in 2018 for her journalism, did not testify in court.

The case centers on a Rappler report from 2012 about businessman Wilfredo Keng's alleged ties to Renato Corona, chief justice at the time.

Government investigators initially dismissed Keng's 2017 complaint about the article, but state prosecutors later decided to file charges.

The legal underpinning of the charge is a controversial "cybercrime law" aimed at online offenses ranging from hacking and internet fraud to child pornography.

In court on Monday, Ressa's defense team highlighted investigators' initial decision not to pursue the case, and her insulation from Rappler's daily news decisions.

"As an executive editor, she does not really edit," Chay Hofilena, a Rappler investigative journalist, told the court.

The government has repeatedly said the case has nothing to do with politics, adding that no one is above the law.

However, Duterte has in speeches lashed out at Rappler and other critical media outfits, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and broadcaster ABS-CBN.

He threatened to go after their owners over alleged unpaid taxes or block the network's franchise renewal application.

Rights monitor Reporters Without Borders ranked the Philippines at 134 out of 178 countries on its annual "World Press Freedom" index this year, when at least three journalists were killed "most likely by agents working for local politicians".

READ: One less legal suit vs Rappler as prosecutor junks DAR chief's libel rap

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