CEO of Rappler News Maria Ressa has spent the night in jail in the Phillipines.
Ressa was arrested on charges of cyber libel by National Bureau of Investigations, who arrived in plain-clothes on February 13 at the Rappler headquarters in Manila.
She spent the night in jail despite her lawyer JJ Disini’s attempts to secure bail at night court.
In response to the detention Ressa remained defiant, saying “If somehow the government feels that by keeping me the night, they can intimidate me, no, we will hold the line.’’
The arrest relates to a October 2017 complaint by businessman Wilfredo Keng for a 2012 article where Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr uncovered alleged close ties between Keng and a judge in a top court. The pair could be in jail for up to 12 years if found guilty.
According to Rappler the cyber libel law which Ressa and Santos Jr are charged with violating was enacted four months after the article was published seven years ago.
The warrant of arrest was issued on February 12 by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa who presides over the Regional Trial Court Branch 46 in Manila. It pits Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr as as the accused against The People of the Philippines as plaintiffs.
Rappler considers the arrest as part of concerted moves to stop the website’s extensive reporting on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
Ressa believes the charges are a politically motivated attempt to silence Rappler. Duterte has reportedly tried numerous times to discredit the site’s reports as fake news, going so far as to threaten not to renew Rappler's license in 2018.
Rappler’s statement posted on the site was a message to authorities telling them they will not succeed with their latest attempt to convict Ressa. “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,” the statement said.
Ressa was named 2018 Time Person of the Year in recognition of her commitment to the fight for press freedom in the face of what is perceive as endless harassment by authorities.
Wednesday’s arrest is not the first time Ressa has been charged by Philippine authorities. She was slapped with tax evasion charges in November 2018 and is still out on bail.