Journalist Maria Ressa Arrested for 'Cyber Libel' in the Philippines

Ressa was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for her reporting

Rappler Inc., the news site which Ressa heads, said National Bureau of Investigation agents served the warrant late this afternoon, making it hard for Ressa to apply for bail, and escorted her from the office to NBI headquarters.

Award-winning journalist Maria Ressa was arrested on Wednesday at the headquarters of Rappler, the news outlet she runs in the Philippines, the latest in a deluge of legal attacks on the journalist by President Rodrigo Duterte's government.

She was arrested over a libel complaint from a businessman.

Duterte, who has waged an anti-drug campaign that has left thousands dead, has openly criticized journalists who have covered him in an unfavorable manner.

Earlier in the day, she was served an arrest warrant by Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officers, Rappler reported.

"We are not intimidated".

Maria Ressa, center, stands on stage at a 2018 New Year's Eve celebration in New York's Times Square.

The charges were filed by the Philippine Department of Justice over a May 2012 story about businessman Wilfredo Keng and his alleged links to illegal drugs and human trafficking.

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"The Philippine government's legal harassment of Rappler and Maria Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture", Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act - a controversial law that prompted fears of censorship because it made online libel a crime punishable by up to 12 years in jail - was enacted months later in September 2012.

Amnesty International Philippines said Ressa's arrest was based on a "trumped up libel charge". "This marks a no-go area for the rest of the media on stories that are highly critical or embarrassing to the government".

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the arrest was "merely part of any criminal procedure" and that Ressa was indicted more than a week ago. Keng did not object to the article until 2017, after Duterte's government began accusing Rappler of running fake news and being illegally run by foreigners (the Philippines requires all national media to be owned and operated by Philippine nationals).

Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after the government's corporate watchdog found that the news site violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it received money from an worldwide investment firm. Since starting Rappler in 2012, Ressa has not been afraid to cast criticism on the government as a result of the news website's investigations into impunity and corruption.

Ressa has also posted bail on tax evasion charges which she denies and says were politically motivated.

Ressa's arrest does not indicate suppression of the press, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told local media. In 2018, Time magazine named Ressa, along with several other journalists, its Persons of the Year for challenging strongmen governments.

Ressa, who has worked with CNN, also was the victor of two prestigious journalism awards previous year, a Press Freedom award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Centre for Journalists' Knight International Journalism Award.



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