MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Veteran Philippine journalist Maria Ressa asked a court on Friday to quash the second charge of cyber libel she has faced this year, in a case sparked by a screenshot of an online news article.
The critic of President Rodrigo Duterte is already on bail pending an appeal against a conviction in June for the same type of offence, for which she faces up to six years in prison.
Ressa and her news site Rappler face at least a dozen criminal charges and probes after publishing stories critical of the Duterte government, including its bloody war on drugs that has killed thousands.
Ex-Rappler journalist Reynaldo Santos was also found guilty in the previous case.
“Crazy” and “dangerous”
Ressa, a former CNN journalist, described the latest cyber libel charge as “crazy” and “dangerous”.
The charge — which prosecutors filed on November 23 — stems from a complaint by businessman Wilfredo Keng over Ressa’s tweet in 2019 of a screenshot of a 2002 story published by Philstar.com about Keng.
The news site removed the article “after the camp of Mr. Wilfredo Keng raised the possibility of legal action”, Philstar.com said last year.
“It’s crazy that I have to face a criminal case for tweeting a screengrab of a newspaper article,” Ressa told journalists after appearing in court Friday.
“By any stretch of the imagination that just seems off. That’s why we have a motion to quash.”
Ressa, who Time magazine named as a Person of the Year in 2018, has asked the court to dismiss the charge on the grounds she cannot be liable for sharing a screenshot of a news story she did not write.
“This is a bad precedent for social media, for Twitter,” she said.
“This is very dangerous.”
Complaint made by Keng
Ressa’s June conviction also stemmed from a complaint made by Keng in 2017 over a Rappler story five years earlier about his alleged ties to a judge on the nation’s top court.
The cyber libel charges against Ressa were made under a controversial cybercrime statute aimed at online offences, such as stalking and child pornography.
Duterte has faced international calls to drop all charges against the veteran reporter, with rights groups saying they amount to state harassment. But the pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
In July Duterte, who has a history of clashing with media outlets critical of his administration, called Ressa a “fraud”.