MANILA – Maria Ressa, an award-winning journalist and chief of online news portal Rappler, was arrested on Wednesday for cyber libel over a 2012 report on a businessman published on the website.
Rappler, which has often been targeted for criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies, tweeted that, “NBI officers arrested Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa (@mariaressa) in connection with a cyber libel case filed by the justice department.”
The company said that NBI officers arrested Ressa from her office in the Rappler headquarters.
Ressa, who was named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, surrendered voluntarily to the authorities, and is expected to apply for bail.
The justice department filed a cyber libel case against Rappler, Ressa, as the portal’s CEO, and investigative journalist Reynaldo Santos, for a report on Wilfredo Keng, published in May 2012.
Last month, three department of justice prosecutors ruled in favor of Keng, who in Oct. 2017 had filed a complaint against the Rappler report, that had alleged he had links to drugs and human trafficking.
Keng filed a complaint with the NBI Cybercrime Division, five years after the publication of the report, which had dismissed the case in Feb. 2018.
However, the department of justice reopened the case a week later in March 2018, citing “continuous publication,” which means that the report was not withdrawn from the website.
“This latest step to stifle criticism follows a spate of attacks on political activists and human rights defenders,” Amnesty International had said in a statement on Feb. 6, after it was known that Ressa will be charged with cyber libel.
“The latest harassment of Maria Ressa and her team comes as no surprise. Rappler’s fearless journalism has consistently exposed the so-called ‘war on drugs’ for what it really is: a deadly campaign that has led to thousands of unlawful killings of poor and marginalized people, including children. Critics, activists, and journalists alike have faced President Duterte’s wrath for speaking the truth,” the statement had added.
This is, however, not the only case against Ressa.
Last November, an arrest warrant was issued against her on five charges of alleged tax evasion.
Ressa had posted bail at the time and the case is pending trial.
Ressa has always maintained the charges against her and Rappler were politically-motivated owing to reports on the portal that criticized Duterte’s administration and his policies.
Duterte has made no secret of his hostility towards Rappler, accusing it of being financed by the CIA and banning its reporters from accessing the presidential palace.