The CEO of Rappler, a news website in the Philippines that is highly critical of the ruling administration, has been arrested.
Rappler journalists livestreamed officials serving Maria Ressa with an arrest warrant at the website’s headquarters in Manila. She was freed on bail on Wednesday.
The footage showed plainclothes officers from the country’s National Bureau of Investigations talking to Ressa before they reportedly told journalists to stop filming.
In a statement, Rappler called the filing of the case “preposterous and baseless.”
“If this is another of several attempts to intimidate us, it will not succeed, as past attempts have shown. Maria Ressa and Rappler will continue to do our jobs as journalists. We will continue to tell the truth and report what we see and hear. We are first and foremost journalists, we are truthtellers, and we will not be intimidated.”
Ressa said, "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.”
Ressa is a former CNN bureau chief who in 2018 was named a Time magazine Person of the Year for defending press freedom.
She founded Rappler with other journalists in 2012 — it is one of the few media organizations in the Philippines that is openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte and his hardline policies.
Rappler has been especially critical of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs that has seen more than 4,000 people killed, but Ressa’s arrest stems from a 2012 article the site published about a businessperson’s ties to a former chief justice in the Philippines.
Ressa's arrest is under a controversial “cyber-libel” law that came into force in September 2012 — four months after the article in question was published.
The case against Rappler had previously been discontinued this time last year before being revived by the NBI.
It’s not the first time Rappler or Ressa has faced prosecution. She has been accused of tax evasion in what have been called politically motivated charges.
When charges against Ressa were first recommended last week, Amnesty International in the Philippines said the “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.”
Duterte has criticized Rappler in the past and banned its reporters from covering his official events, while last year the site had its license revoked.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called Ressa’s arrest a “shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
Last year Ressa was presented with the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In her acceptance speech, she said, "You don't really know who you are until you're forced to fight to defend it. Then every battle you win or lose, every compromise you choose to make, or to walk away from, all these struggles define the values you live by, and, ultimately, who you are.
"We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: we did not duck, we did not hide. We are Rappler, and we will hold the line."
The Committee to Protect Journalists presented Ressa with the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award last year. An earlier version of this post misstated the award's name and the committee's name.