The founder of the Filipino website Rappler, which has been strongly critical of hardline President Rodrigo Duterte, has been arrested for the second time on violating laws barring foreign ownership of media.
Journalist Maria Ressa was re-arrested at Manila airport on Thursday, and was later charged with violating laws barring the ownership or management of domestic media outlets by foreign entities, as well as a separate charge of securities fraud. She was later granted bail after posting a 90,000 peso ($1700) bond.
“Obviously, this is yet another abuse of my rights. I am being treated like a criminal when my only crime is to be an independent journalist,” she told reporters. “Every action takes us farther into a descent into tyranny. This is the weaponization of the law.”
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa leaves the court room after posting P90,000 bail for anti-dummy charges. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) March 29, 2019
Advocates for press freedom say the veteran reporter, who was named as one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year in 2018, say that Duterte is targeting her because of Rappler’s critical reporting of his administration.
Ressa’s lawyer Francis Lim said in a statement they were not surprised and had “prepared ourselves for it,” after several of her colleagues were charged with similar crimes this week.
“Let it be crystal clear that these acts of harassment will not deter our clients from doing their duty as journalists,” Lim said. “We believe in the rule of law and it is our fervent hope that we will prevail in the end.”
The 55-year-old told CNN that she was very concerned about other colleagues at Rappler who may now be targeted.
“I’m very worried about our directors. These are upstanding, successful members of the business community, the tech industry,” she said. “It’s insane, it has ripples not (only) in terms of press freedom, but business. I’ve overused the word ‘ludicrous’ (in describing previous legal procedures). It’s sad to see my nation like this, it’s an abuse of power and weaponization of the law.”
Fears over a press clampdown are heightened given that Rappler has been a vocal critic of Duterte’s security crackdown, that has involved the aggressive targeting of communists, Islamists, and drug traffickers. The campaign group The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) accused Philippine officials of “abusing their authority by issuing arrest warrants” against Ressa and other journalists.
“It is clear that the government is manipulating the law to muzzle and intimidate one of its most credible media critics. This egregious harassment must stop,” the organization said in a statement.