A defiant Maria Ressa appeared at the Makati City Hall on Friday for the arraignment of her second cyber libel case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
In an interview with BBC, she was heard asking. “In which world can you go to jail for a tweet of a screen-grab of a newspaper article?”
The Rappler CEO was pertaining to her social media post in 2019, where she tweeted screenshots of an article of Philstar.com, linking Keng to the ambush-slay of a former Manila councilor.
That article was taken down by the publication after the businessman “raised the possibility of legal action.”
On 23 November, Makati City prosecutors used the said tweet to charge Ressa with violation of Section 4 (c) 4 of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 in relation to Article 353.
Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Mark Anthony Nuguit, in finding probable cause to charge her for the second cyber libel case, said the journalist tweeted “willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, publicly and maliciously — with the intention of attacking the honesty, virtue, honor, integrity, character, and reputation” of Keng.
“Of all the things she could say — she deliberately chose a 17-year-old article, which was already taken down by the Philippine Star from its website, that tends to cause dishonor, discredit and contempt to the complainant,” the resolution read.
Ressa denied the accusation through her Motion to Quash filed on 2 December, arguing that she should not be held liable because she is not the author of the article.
Following the filing of her Motion to Quast, the court has deferred her arraignment to give the prosecution time to reply to the journalist’s motion. (Editor: The Daily Tribune earlier reported that Ressa was arraigned in her second cyber libel case.)
“The judge deferred the arraignment because of the Motion to Quash and so the prosecution was given until December 11 to file its comment. So we will take it from there kung anong gagawin ng court as motion,” counsel for Ressa, lawyer Thedore Te said.
Ressa insisted that she is merely sharing it as part of her job as a journalist and the sentence she used in her tweet was factual.
“By any reasonable and unbiased reading, the sentence is not defamatory — read singly, none of the words are; read together, the sentence is not,” her motion read.
Keng is the same businessman responsible for the conviction of Ressa and Rappler journalist Rey Santos Jr. for cyber libel in June 2020.
Meanwhile, the steering committee of #HoldTheLine Coalition — a global collective of civil society and journalism organizations formed in 2019 to defend Ressa — condemned the new legal threats against the journalist and called for the charges to be dropped.
In a statement, the committee said that they are alarmed by the “escalation” of threats against Ressa, describing the charges as “absurd.”
“It is absurd that a journalist tweeting about another publication’s story could be jailed. We call for the new charge to be dropped immediately, and for Ressa’s conviction on an earlier criminal cyber libel charge to be quashed,” it said.
The second cyber libel case marks Ressa’s ninth arrest warrant under the Duterte administration. She is currently facing eight cases including criminal tax charges.
If she will be convicted for the new case and if the possible six-year prison sentence on her existing cyber libel conviction will not be overturned, #HoldTheLine Coalition said that Ressa could be looking at a lifetime in prison.