Acclaimed Filipino journalist Maria Ressa was arrested on Wednesday in a move that press rights activists denounced as a blatant attempt by President Rodrigo Duterte at silencing one of his most outspoken critics. She was subsequently released on bail Thursday, after spending the night in detention.
Duterte, who has previously referred to reporters as “sons of bitches” and “spies” who shouldn’t be “exempted from assassination,” has repeatedly singled out Ressa and members of her news organization, Rappler, for their unflinching coverage of his drug war, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 Filipinos. Her arrest on Wednesday came at the behest of the Department of Justice, who charged Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr., a former researcher and writer for Rappler, arrested for “cyber libel” under the country’s Cybercrime Prevention Act, over an article written in 2012. The 55-year-old journalist is also facing charges relating to tax evasion and violation of foreign ownership laws.
“I will do the right thing,” Ressa told reporters after plainclothes agents from the National Bureau of Investigations served her with a warrant for her arrest at her newsroom in Manila. “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.”
On posting bail, Ressa declared the arrest an “abuse of power and the weaponization of the law.”
“This is not just about me, not just about Rappler,” she said.
In a court filing last year, Ressa denounced the charges against her as “baffling and unfounded,” noting that it didn’t even make sense to charge her under the Cybercrime Prevention Act since the allegedly offending article had been published four months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act even become law.
Her arraignment is set for March 1.
In a statement, the Philippines’ National Union of Journalists decried Ressa’s arrest as “a shameless act of persecution by a bully government,” adding that “independent Filipino journalists will never allow freedom of the press to be suppressed.”
Ressa founded Rappler in 2012 alongside three other prominent women journalists — Lilibeth Frondoso, Glenda Gloria and Chay Hofileña. Ressa was honored as one of WITW’s “10 Crusaders of 2018″ and was among a group of journalists collectively named Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year.
At last year’s Women in the World Summit, Rappler multimedia journalist Patricia Evangelista shared chilling accounts of the violence she’d witnessed during Duterte’s drug war, noting that Duterte had also suspended Rappler’s press license and barred some of its reporters from covering him.
Watch video of Evangelista’s appearance at the 2018 Summit below: