Maria Ressa, the editor of an online news outlet critical of the Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, has been released on bail after she was arrested on Wednesday. Ressa was arrested at the headquarters of Rappler, the news site she founded, by four plainclothes officers and brought to the National Bureau of Investigation where she was…
Maria Ressa, the editor of an online news outlet critical of the Philippines’ president,Rodrigo Duterte, has been released on bail after she was arrested on Wednesday.
Ressawas arrestedat the headquarters of Rappler, the news site she founded, by four plainclothes officers and brought to the National Bureau of Investigation where she was held on charges of cyber-libel.
The charges, which Ressa said were “politically motivated”, relate to a story published in 2012 about a Philippine businessman and his allegedly corrupt connections to a top court judge. However, Ressa said that the case was part ofa wider government campaignto intimidate and harass media outlets. The law being used against Ressa and Rappler was brought in four months after the story was published.
Ressa, who was named a Time Person of the year in 2018, posted bail of 100,000 Philippine pesos (£1,400) on Thursday morning and was released.
Speaking to reporters as she left the court, Ressa said: “This is the sixth time that I have posted bail and I will pay more bail than convicted criminals. I will pay more bail than Imelda Marcos.”
She added: “I’m aghast, it’s unbelievable that this can happen in a democracy. But I’m processing it and trying to figure out if they are trying to send me a message. The message is clear: this is an abuse of power and it’s a weaponisation of the law. But if they wanted to scare me, this isn’t the way to scare me.”
Ressa emphasised that the cyber-libel case was based on a story published seven years ago, and that the NBI initially dropped the case. “Then a week later it magically reappeared,” said Ressa. “It’s clear this is politically motivated, I don’t know why the government is afraid of the truth.”
Ressa’s arrest prompted a global outcry from fellow journalists, government ministers and human rights groups.
The Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “deeply troubled” to hear of Ressa’s arrest. Writing on Twitter, Freeland said: “A free press is a bedrock of democracy. Canada reiterates its call for due process to be respected and for journalists to be free from harassment and intimidation.”
The US senator Brian Schatz also condemned the arrest of Ressa on what he called “trumped-up charges”.
“Instead of trying to silence journalists who are accurately reporting the news, the Filipino government should focus on protecting democracy and defending the country’s constitution, including its commitment to a free press,” Schatz said.
The Australian Labor party senator Penny Wong said her party was “concerned by the arrest of the internationally recognisedPhilippinesjournalist Maria Ressa. Freedom of expression and a free press are important democratic values.”
The journalist Christine Amanpour called directly on Duterte to “releaseMaria Ressanow … You know a government is desperate when they arrest a journalist.”
Amanpour was echoed by Peter Greste, the Unesco chair in journalism at the University of Queensland and co-founder of the Alliance for Jounalists, who said: “Maria is one of the straightest, bravest and most professional journalists I know … Her voice should not be stifled.”