Maria Ressa, an outspoken critic of Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, who has previously threatened reporters, was arrested Wednesday with “cyber libel” charges against her news site, Rappler. The charges were in relation to a Rappler report that connected a former judge in the Philippines’ top court to a businessman involved in human trafficking and illegal drugs.
Several agents from the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) arrested Ressa late afternoon and threatened other reporters for recording the scene. Following her arrest, a night court judge rejected her request to post bail, resulting in Ressa spending the night in custody. Ressa was also charged with tax fraud charges, which she posted bail for, and she denies the charges a politically motivated stunt.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act, which Ressa was charged under, was approved and put into effect in 2014, two years after the article in question was published in 2012. Ressa and her lawyers have denounced the charges as politically motivated and retroactive, because they are charging her for a crime that was not illegal at the time of the article’s published date.
Ressa, who was a 2018 Time Person of the Year, had been outspoken about Duterte’s war on drugs, reporting the brutal deaths of thousands of people and drawing international attention to Duterte’s antidrug war. Rappler had also published a report of Duterte’s public admission that he had sexually assaulted a maid. Rappler and Ressa have faced several attacks from the government, including being banned from covering presidential appearances as well as stripped of press passes. Duterte has also attacked other reporters from different publications, threatening ABS-CBN, Philippines’ largest broadcast news network, that he would deny their license renewal.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines have condemned Duterte’s actions against Rappler and Ressa, stating that the government’s arrest of Ressa was “clearly manipulated” and demonstrated the “ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence critical media.” Press freedom in the Philippines has declined since Duterte’s presidency. 176 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, making the country one of the most dangerous for journalists. In 2016, the president stated that many of those reporters have “done something wrong” and deserved to die.
Media Resources: CNN 2/13/19; BBC 6/1/26; BBC 2/13/19; New York Times 2/13/19