Philippine journalist Maria Ressa was arrested yet again at Manila airport on Friday for an alleged violation of foreign ownership laws for her independent news organization, Rappler. She was briefly detained before posting bail for the 7th time in just over a month, after which she defiantly denounced the country’s “descent to tyranny” to a crowd of reporters.
The acclaimed journalist said that she and five members of Rappler’s 2016 board had been targeted with phony charges in an attempt to intimidate them and discredit their reporting. The hounding she has faced from the government, she added, was a sign that the country was slipping into authoritarianism under President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I was so proud of the directors who we worked with in Rappler, and their only crime is to believe that technology and communications, these can help jumpstart development,” said Ressa. “The fact that the government continues to label us as criminals is itself criminal. What can I say? I’m gonna laugh, because it’s all you can do now. Every action takes us further into a descent to tyranny. This is the weaponization of the law — you’re seeing it in action.”
Ressa’s Rappler is one of the few media outlets left in the Philippines that dares to criticize the government. Under Duterte, the Philippines has cracked down on freedoms and eroded democratic norms. It has also waged a extrajudicial drug war that had claimed more than 12,000 lives by January of last year, according to Human Rights Watch.
Duterte has repeatedly made violent and disturbing sexual remarks about women, including confessing to sexually assaulting a maid. He has banned Rappler’s reporters from covering his official activities, and last year revoked the site’s license in an attempt to shut it down.
The majority of the charges against Ressa and Rappler stem from government claims that the organization is foreign controlled in violation of Philippine law — an accusation that Rappler has repeatedly denied. Press freedom advocates have alleged that the charges are wholly manufactured as a brazen tactic to intimidate journalists critical of the government.
“The court case is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the Duterte administration’s determination to shut the website down for its credible and consistent reporting on the government,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement.
Ressa is slated to appear at the 10th annual Women in the World Summit in New York on April 10 to speak about the importance — and dangers — of telling truth to power.
Watch video of Ressa’s full statement following her release below.