Last night we learned that our friend and Meedan Board of Directors member Maria Ressa has been convicted of cyber libel and sentenced to serve time in prison for these crimes. Here is a quick run-down of the verdict and case details:

  • On Monday, June 15, Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa convicted Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr of cyber libel.
  • The court sentenced Ressa and Santos to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in prison.
  • They were released on bail pending appeal. Ressa and Santos were also each ordered to pay 200,000 Philippine pesos (approximately 3,500 euros) in moral damages and 200,000 pesos in exemplary damages.
  • Ressa and Reynaldo will not go to prison at this time, as the conviction can be appealed and they have the option to exhaust legal remedies in higher courts.
  • The cyber-libel case against Ressa is based on an investigative report published by Rappler on May 2012.
  • The article said that the then-chief justice of the Philippines Supreme Court, Renato Corona, had used vehicles belonging to a controversial businessman.
  • The article was republished on February 2014, to correct a spelling error, which is a normal practice of news publications.
  • In February last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) arrested Ressa and filed charges against her, reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. and Rappler Inc. under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which was enacted on September 2012, four months after the publication of the original report in Rappler.
  • The charges stemmed from a complaint by the businessman, Wilfredo D. Keng. Authorities initially declined to prosecute the case, but later reversed that decision.
  • In the court, the prosecution argued that the republication of the article in 2014 to correct a "typo" amounted to republication of the story and therefore the cyber libel law could be applied.Source: International Press Institute& Rappler

Across the interwebs there is an outpouring of support for Maria and condemnation of this verdict. We add to that our emphatic support for Maria, for Rappler’s meticulous and ethical journalism, and for the very institution of an open and critical press that she has come to embody.

I want to share some personal reflections, some context, that might not be known to an international audience who sees her only as the Time Magazine person of the year and a global face of press freedom. The Maria Ressa I have come to know is most remarkable for the fact that she has built a media property to oppose and stand against corruption, violence, and censorship while remaining one of the kindest, most modest, and upbeat people I have ever encountered. This is not a veneer - it goes straight through to the core of who Maria is.

And then there is the way Maria thinks. Anyone who has ever been involved in a project with Maria knows what happens after the glimmer in her eye sparks and she pushes up in her chair and begins tossing out ideas and connecting dots. The way Maria thinks is somewhere between a journalist, a moral philosopher, a web application designer, and a database architect. Two weeks ago we had a meeting with Maria and her team to discuss rolling out some journalism technology with her team. Within five minutes Maria has sprinted past what any of us had envisioned - basically laying out a roadmap for the reinvention of journalism in the age of messaging networks and on demand information services.

There is something deep in the notion of social justice. It is that there is a definable justice that sits beneath courts and laws, a justice that is ‘social’ in the sense that it is what society knows to be true. Maria has been fighting for social justice in the Philippines for decades by simply documenting the truth in that society. And now the powers that are threatened by that truth are corrupting their courts and laws to preserve their ability to control what can be said by whom. This is not only a threat to our dear friend Maria and her colleague Rey, it is more profoundly a threat to journalism and democracy in the Philippines and around the world.

Please join us in raising your voice in support. #holdtheline #standwithmaria #supportrappler

Meedan’s Check Global Network invites you to attend our upcoming online event on June 18: Maria Ressa and Seema Yasmin in Conversation: Reporting Barriers During COVID-19.