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Maria Ressa to question cyber libel charge in court, lawyer says

MANILA – Rappler CEO Maria Ressa would question in court the cyber libel case filed against her, her lawyer said Thursday. 

Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested Wednesday in connection with a 2012 Rappler article involving businessman Wildredo Keng.

The journalist was freed on bail Thursday after being detained overnight at the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI). 

“We leave it to the court to make a decision whether or not the charge is actually legally viable,” Ressa’s lawyer JJ Disini told ANC.

Disini said they disagree with the charge’s claims that the article in question was republished in 2014 since only “minor corrections” in punctuations and capitalizations were made. 

The case against Ressa, who publishes articles on “matters of public interest,” is also an attack on press freedom, Disini said.

Extending the year of filing libel cases to up to 12 years after publication under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, “has a chilling effect on freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” the lawyer said.
 
“When a news outlet publishes a matter of interest and then it is subject to a libel case, I don’t see how you can say that has nothing to do with freedom of the press,” Disini said.

“Obviously, libel now is being used as a way to restrict freedom of the press. That’s one of things that the court will need to figure out,” he added.

Apart from the cyber libel case, Ressa and Rappler are also facing a tax suit. The site’s incorporation certificate was revoked in 2018 for allegedly violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.