Journalist Maria Ressa Arrested for 'Cyber Libel' in the Philippines

Remigio Civitarese
Febbraio 14, 2019

Rappler Inc., the news site which Ressa heads, said National Bureau of Investigation agents served the warrant late this afternoon, making it hard for Ressa to apply for bail, and escorted her from the office to NBI headquarters.

"The arrest of. Ressa on the clearly manipulated charge of cyberlibel is a shameless act of persecution by a bully government", said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

In 2018, Time magazine named Ressa, along with several other journalists, its Persons of the Year for challenging strongmen governments.

"This is what journalists in the Philippines now have to go through", she added.

The case, filed by the DOJ, stemmed from a complaint by businessman Wilfredo Keng, who was identified in a Rappler article as the owner of the SUV that then-chief justice Renato Corona had used during the impeachment trial. He is supposedly close to lawmakers and had contacts with the United States embassy at the time.

Rappler, which was founded in 2012, rejected the ruling.

The charge traces back to a story published in May 2012, months before the country's cyber crime prevention law was approved in September.

Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after the government's corporate watchdog found that the news site violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it received money from an global investment firm.

Maria Ressa, center, stands on stage at a 2018 New Year's Eve celebration in New York's Times Square.

Rappler and Ressa have been critical of the Duterte administration and its controversial policies.

Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Carlos Conde said it was a "sad day" for Philippine press freedom. A year ago, Duterte's government revoked Rappler's journalist license and banned Rappler journalists from Malacanang, the presidential palace.

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested at her Manila office on Wednesday in what press freedom advocates branded an act of "persecution".

Maria Ressa was taken into custody at her Rappler office in Manila over a libel complaint described as "politically motivated".

Ressa and her publication continued to cover Philippine politics, however, often shining light of incidents of shooting deaths involving individuals, many of them politicians, accused of ties to the drug trade. "No amount of legal cases, black propaganda, and lies can silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line", Ressa said in a statement.

Her detention on a charge of "cyber libel" is a dramatic escalation in the legal pressure bearing down on Ressa and her website Rappler, which was already facing tax evasion charges that could shut it down.

The typically outspoken Duterte has yet to issue any public comment on the Rappler situation at press time. Ressa, the head of a news site in the Philippines, was arrested on Wednesday in Manila.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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