Philippines: Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrested on cyber libel charges

(UPDATE with Maria Ressa release on bail). The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for cyber libel in her office on February 13. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the arrest and detention of Ressa and demand the government end the ongoing crackdown against Rappler.

Maria Ressa speaks to the media as she leaves the Rappler offices following her arrest. Credit: Ted Aljibe/AFP

Ressa was in a meeting at the Rappler offices in Manila when agents served her with an arrest warrant. She was charged with cyber libel over an article Rappler published in 2012. She appeared before court and was denied bail. Ressa remains in custody. Rappler staff broadcast the entire arrest on Facebook, despite objections from NBI agents. Local journalists, including NUJP members, quickly assembled at the Rappler officers, denouncing the arrest.

Ressa’s arrest comes after Rappler, Ressa and reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. were indicted on libel charges on February 7. The indictment comes over a story that Rappler published a report during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. The charges come under the Cybercrime Prevention Act (2012), despite the legislation not being a law until later in 2012. The Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution cites the multiple publication rule to validate the charges.

In December 2018, Ressa was arrested on tax fraud charges, which she is currently on bail for.

In a statement NUJP said it believes the arrest of Maria Ressa on the clearly manipulated charge of cyber libel is a shameless act of persecution by a bully government. It is clear that the Department of Justice perverted the law by charging Maria for an offense allegedly committed before it actually became an offense under the law. The administration is obsessed with shutting down Rappler and intimidating the rest of the independent Philippine media into toeing the lines.

We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand with the independent Philippines press in defense of the rights not only of media but of the people. For in suppressing the press it is the people's right to know that is trampled on,” NUJP said.

The IFJ said: “We stand with our affiliate NUJP and all journalists in Philippines in condemning the arrest of Maria. This arrest is a very serious threat to media freedom and journalists’ safety. We strongly demand the immediate release of Maria. We also urge the government to critically address the declining situation for media workers in the country.”

IFJ-SEAJU report Underneath the Autocrats published in December ranked the Philippines the worst offender for impunity in South East Asia.

UPDATE: Maria Ressa was freed on bail on Thursday February 14 after spending one night under arrest. The IFJ urges authorities to drop all charges against her. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on 
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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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