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Politically Motivated Arrest of Philippine Journalist

Criminal Libel Case is Latest Attack on Maria Ressa, Rappler

Maria Ressa, head of Philippine online news site Rappler, gestures while talking to the media after being arrested by National Bureau of Investigation agents in a libel case in Manila, February 13, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

Update: on February 14, Maria Ressa was released on bail but still faces prosecution. Her arraignment is on March 1.

On Wednesday, Philippine National Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Maria Ressa, the founding editor of news website Rappler, in the latest assault on media freedom by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The arrest follows a libel case filed against Ressa under the cybercrimes law for a story the website published in 2012.

Rappler called the arrest “baseless” and vowed to “continue to do our jobs as journalists.” Rappler’s award-winning and critical coverage of the administration of Duterte, particularly its murderous “war on drugs,” has again put it in the crosshairs of the government.

The arrest was just the latest in a string of politically motivated cases filed against Ressa and Rappler. Last year, the Department of Justice brought five cases of alleged tax evasion against Ressa. She posted bail after arrest warrants were issued. Earlier, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the website's registration, alleging that foreigners had illegally invested in the company, a charge Rappler denied.

The cases against Ressa and Rappler appear designed not only to intimidate the website, but to eventually shut it down.

The administration, its social media trolls, and government propagandists have launched repeated attacks against Rappler and its staffers, at one point banning one of its reporters, Pia Ranada, from covering the presidential premises.

Ressa's persecution is part of a broader campaign by the Duterte administration to harass and silence critics not only in the media, but in the legislature, the judiciary, civil society, and the Roman Catholic Church. Senator Leila de Lima, a former Justice Secretary, chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, and a fierce Duterte critic, was arrested almost two years ago on fabricated charges and remains detained.

The Duterte administration’s attacks on such a globally prominent news outlet demand a global response. Governments concerned about the thousands killed in the “drug war” and the media’s ability to report on this and other abuses need to publicly demand Ressa’s release and the dropping of all charges.

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