Journalist and Duterte critic Maria Ressa arrested for ‘cyber libel’

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An award-winning journalist who is an outspoken critic of the Philippine president has been arrested on “cyber libel” charges.

Maria Ressa, who was named as a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018, was arrested as part of a series of legal cases against perceived adversaries of the government.

Ms Ressa, chief executive of news outlet Rappler, is accused of “cyber libel” over a 2012 article which linked a businessman to murder and trafficking humans and drugs.

The article cited information from an intelligence report from an unspecified agency. The businessman denies any wrongdoing.

Ms Ressa is a vocal critic of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, and her work saw her named by Time Magazine last year.

Time said her publication was carrying out “fearless reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s propaganda machine and extrajudicial killings”.

Amnesty International said Ms Ressa’s arrest was “brazenly politically motivated”.

Agents from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested Ms Ressa at the Rappler office and she was escorted to NBI headquarters.

She said: “We are not intimidated. 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 silence journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail.”

Menardo Guevarra, the justice secretary, said Ms Ressa was indicted more than a week ago.

As Ms Ressa was arrested so late in the afternoon it was “difficult if not impossible” for her to post bail before the courts closed, her lawyer said.

The journalist is no stranger to facing criminal charges. She has been indicted several times, most recently on tax evasion charges, with one stating her company failed to file $3m (£2.3m) in taxes in 2015.

She told CNN, her former employers, she had “long run out of synonyms for the word ‘ridiculous’.”

Rappler’s operating licence was rescinded in 2018 and this and the tax evasion cases are ongoing.

Chay Hofilena, Rappler’s investigative editor, said: “These cases are intended to intimidate us. We know that’s the intent, we are not buckling.”

Rappler is one of several news agencies which have been deemed critical of Mr Duterte’s policies, including his anti-drug campaign, that has left thousands of suspects dead.

Mr Duterte has called Rappler a “fake news outlet” and suggested it could be linked to the CIA.

But he says he has never punished anyone for criticising him.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement: “The Philippine government’s legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture.

“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.”

Ms Ressa has also won the Press Freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Centre for Journalists’ Knight International Journalism Award.

(c) Sky News 2019: Journalist and Duterte critic Maria Ressa arrested for ‘cyber libel’

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