Maria Ressa, Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 was arrested by the officials of the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday.
Ressa is a journalist and the CEO of Rappler, a news website critical of the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a live stream posted by Rappler, the NBI cybercrime unit
Rappler journalists live-streamed the arrest on Facebook and Twitter.
However, an NBI officer reportedly ordered them to stop taking photos and filming inside her office, where the arrest warrant was served.
Ressa said the accusation of “cyber-libel” is an attempt by the Duterte government to silence Rappler.
In a statement, Ressa said she had not seen the indictment before her arrest was issued. She said that “if possible”, she will post bail immediately.
Miriam Grace Go, Rappler’s news editor, tweeted that NBI agents had taken Ms Ressa off Rappler’s property.
The arrest warrant vs Maria Ressa is being served at the Rappler HQ now, an officer part of the serving party who introduced himself to be part of the NBI tried to prohibit me from taking videos — WHICH IS PART OF MY JOB pic.twitter.com/TElJzSjJer— Aika Rey (@reyaika) February 13, 2019
The latest charge against Ressa stems from a May 2012 report written about a businessman’s alleged ties to a former judge in the nation’s top court.
The case comes under a controversial “cyber-libel” law penalising online libel. The cybercrime law came into force in September 2012, four months after the article in question was published.
Officials first filed the case against her in 2017, but it was initially dismissed by the NBI because the one-year limit for bringing libel cases had lapsed. However, in March 2018, the NBI reopened the case.
The case adds to the legal pressure on Ressa and her company that has already been hit with tax evasion charges that could shut down the news outlet and put her in jail.
Rappler has published a number of reports critical of Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands of alleged users and pushers since 2016.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned the latest arrest of Ressa as “a shameless act of persecution by a bully government”.
“This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought,” said NUJP in a statement.