“We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid.”

Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa issued this warning to fellow journalists and Filipinos in response to her cyber libel conviction that government critics said was another example of shrinking freedoms under President Rodrigo Duterte.

A Manila trial court on Monday found Ressa and a former Rappler researcher, Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of cyber libel over a May 2012 story about a Chinese-Filipino businessman said to have lent one of his vehicles to the late chief justice Renato Corona, who was removed by an impeachment court from office that year.

While the law that penalizes cyber libel took effect later in 2012, the judge ruled that the story was “republished” in 2014 even if Rappler claimed only a typographical error was corrected. The court also ruled that cyber libel case can be pursued within 12 years after publication, unlike ordinary libel that has a one-year prescription.

Ressa and Santos, who are entitled to appeal the conviction, were sentenced to between six months and one day to six years in jail, and ordered to pay P200,000 in moral damages and P200,000 in exemplary damages.

The case drew international attention as Ressa and her news website, Rappler, has been a target of the Duterte administration and is the subject of several other cases, including tax evasion and securities fraud.

“We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid. So I appeal again. Do not be afraid. Because if you don’t use your rights, you will lose them,” Ressa told reporters after Monday’s ruling.

Various groups, led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), condemned the court verdict.

“The decision basically affirms the State’s manipulation and weaponization of the law to stifle criticism and dissent, allowing the retroactive application of the law for a supposed offense committed before it existed by the simple expedience of declaring a typographical correction a ‘republication,’ and recalibrating the prescription period for the offense,” NUJP said.

In a separate statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said “It’s a menacing blow to press freedom in the Philippines and adds a new weapon in a growing legal arsenal against constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in an Asian outpost of democracy.”

The private complainant, businessman Wilfredo Keng, said he was “vindicated” by the ruling and that the government had nothing to do with his complaint.

“It is of public record: My counsel had pleaded and begged with Rappler to correct their false public accusations that I am a criminal, or at the very least, to publish my side. They refused. They have denied me my right to clear my name. Where else can I go to seek justice and protection but our courts?” he said.

Malacañang on Monday said Ressa was “barking up the wrong tree” for claiming that her conviction was a “cautionary tale” to strike fear on government dissenters.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque called Ressa’s allegations “baseless,” citing Duterte’s history of not filing libel cases against critics and past support of Davao-based journalist Alexander Adonis, who was jailed in 2007 for libel.

“Hindi po [si Duterte] ang nasa likod sa panunupil diumano ng kalayaan nang malayang pananalita at pamamahayag. Iyan po ay desisyon ng ating Korte Suprema sa panahon pa ni Presidente Noynoy Aquino,” he added. PressONE.ph, John Ezekiel J. Hirro