The Filipino Nobel peace prize winner Maria Ressa has lost her appeal against a conviction for cyber libel, her news website, Rappler, has said, in the latest blow for the veteran journalist.
Ressa and her former colleague Rey Santos Jr face lengthy jail sentences, but the company said they would “avail of all legal remedies available to them”, including taking the case to the supreme court.
The ruling comes less than two weeks after the Philippine authorities ordered Rappler to shut down ahead of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s last day in office.
Rappler on Friday described the decision to uphold the conviction as “unfortunate”, saying it “weakens the ability of journalists to hold power to account”.
“What is ultimately at stake is our democracy whose strength rests on a media that is not threatened by the state nor intimidated by forces out to silence critical voices,” Rappler said.
Ressa has long been a vocal critic of Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, triggering what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks against her and Rappler.
She and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression”.
Ressa, who is also a US citizen, is fighting at least seven court cases, including the cyber libel case, for which she has been on bail and faces up to six years in prison.
Rappler, which is the subject of eight legal actions, had to fight for survival as Duterte’s government accused it of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership in securing funding, as well as tax evasion.
Days before Duterte left office, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Rappler to shut down for violating “constitutional and statutory restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media”.
Ressa vowed the company would continue to operate as it followed the legal process, but expressed hope the situation would improve under Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
But the company’s future and its battle in the country’s highly politicized legal system under Marcos Jr’s presidency is uncertain.
Marcos Jr, who took over from Duterte on 30 June, has given few clues about his views on the website and the broader issue of freedom of speech. Activists fear he could worsen the situation for human rights and freedom of speech in the country.