The IPI global network strongly condemns the decision by a Manila court to deny the appeal of the cyber libel conviction of IPI Executive Board member Maria Ressa, a Nobel laureate and founder of the news site Rappler, and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. The court’s decision puts these journalists one step closer to serving draconian six-year prison sentences over a story published in Rappler that alleged links between a businessman and a Supreme Court judge.
In this latest ruling, the Court of Appeals upheld its earlier decision from July 2022, when it first denied the appeal of the journalists’ June 2020 conviction and added almost nine months to the maximum jail sentence.
According to Ressa’s legal team, led by Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC of Doughty Street Chambers, Ressa has just 15 days to file a final appeal before the Philippine Supreme Court.
“With today’s judgment Maria has reached the end of the road in her criminal libel case”, Clooney said. “She now has one last chance to see justice being done – in a final appeal that will be heard by the Philippines Supreme Court. We will soon know whether freedom of expression and the rule of law, will survive.”
In a statement released with her legal team, Ressa called the appeals court’s ruling disappointing but “sadly” not surprising: “This is a reminder of the importance of independent journalism holding power to account. Despite these sustained attacks from all sides, we continue to focus on what we do best – journalism”, Ressa said.
Ressa and Rappler have been the targets of relentless harassment and intimidation campaigns, from online attacks to legal charges. Ressa has been hit with a series of civil and criminal cases, including charges of tax evasion, three cyber libel cases, and violations of foreign ownership rules. At one point she faced up to 100 years in prison across all cases.
“It’s been clear that all of these legal cases are an attempt to silence Maria Ressa and Rappler”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “And now the fate of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. in this matter rests with the country’s Supreme Court, which must decide a case of monumental significance to press freedom and democracy in the Philippines”, she added.