Bangkok, February 13, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Philippine authorities to immediately release and drop all pending charges against Maria Ressa, executive editor and founder of the critical news website Rappler.
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officers arrested Ressa at Rappler's bureau in Manila at around 5 p.m. today over a cyber libel case filed against her by the Justice Department, Rappler reported. The news group livestreamed the arrest, made by officers clad in civilian clothes, on its Facebook page.
"The Philippine government's legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call on Filipino authorities to immediately release Ressa, drop this spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler."
The arrest warrant was issued yesterday by Presiding Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46, Rappler reported. The charge relates to a story Rappler published in May 2012 about local businessman Wilfredo Keng.
Former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. has also been charged in the case, reports said. The NBI had previously closed its investigation on the case because it found no basis to proceed with the complaint, but recently reversed that decision to pursue the charge, Rappler reported.
Penalties for violations under the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act include imprisonment and fines.
Ressa told CPJ before her arrest today that the cyber libel charge was "political" and that "the law is being weaponized in an attempt to control the public narrative. We will not be intimidated and will continue to shine the light on actions of impunity." CPJ was not able to contact Ressa after her arrest.
In November 2018, CPJ sent an open letter to Philippine Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon calling on him to stop his department's legal persecution of Rappler and Ressa.
On November 20, CPJ bestowed its 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award on Ressa, a former CNN reporter, at its annual International Press Freedom Award ceremony held in New York City.