An award-winning Philippine journalist and founder of an online news site that has clashed repeatedly with President Rodrigo Duterte was arrested Wednesday by government agents on libel charges.
Maria Ressa, executive editor of Rappler, Inc., was arrested following a complaint from a businessman linked to murder and trafficking humans and drugs. The Philippine justice ministry filed the case on behalf of the of businessman, who denies any wrongdoing. Dutere’s government maintains the arrest was a normal response to the complaint.
Ressa’s arrest stems from a 2012 report about the businessman’s alleged ties to a judge who was on the nation’s highest court.
“We are not intimidated,” Ressa said in a statement after her arrest. “No amount of legal cases, black propaganda and lies can silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line.”
“These legal acrobatics show how far the government will go to silences journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail,” she added.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned the arrest as a “shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists in Bangkok called on authorities to drop all charges against Ressa and to immediately release her. The committee’s Southeast Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, said “the Philippine government’s legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture.”
London-based Amnesty International denounced the arrest as “brazenly politically motivated.”
Ressa was one of several people named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2018. Time wrote she was recognized for leading Rappler’s “fearless reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s propaganda machine and extrajudicial killings,” a reference to his signature anti-drug campaign that has killed thousands of people. Critics say the campaign has targeted the poor.
Ressa’s detention represents a significant escalation in government pressure on Rappler, which was already facing tax evasion charges that could shut it down.
Duterte has also cracked down on other high-profile critics in the media and the legislature who have opposed his bloody anti-drug campaign.
The Philippines fell six places last year in a ranking of press freedom published by Reporters Without Borders. The country fell to 133 out of 180 because of the government’s efforts to silence critics, the group said.