Maria Ressa, one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year was arrested in the Philippines on charges of libel.
Maria Ressa, Chief Executive Officer of popular online news website Rappler, was arrested by officers from the National Bureau of Investigation NBI in Manila on Wednesday February 13, 2019.
Speaking to reporters during her arrest, Maria Ressa said “People should know that the line has been crossed.”
The arrest was a result of libel charges stemming from a Rappler article from 2012, which accused businessman Wilfredo Keng of murder as well as drug and human trafficking.
The Philippines’ Department of Justice DOJ filed the case against Maria Ressa, on behalf of Keng. Ressa is accused of violating Section 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Rappler is currently facing a slew of legal challenges, including tax evasion.
Time Magazine named Maria Ressa one of its Persons of the Year for her “fearless reporting on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s propaganda machine and extrajudicial killings.”
Activists in the Philippines claim that Maria Ressa is the victim of a sustained campaign aimed at suppressing critics of the Duterte government.
Salvador Panelo, spokesperson for the Philippine president said that Rappler was not being singled out for its reporting. Panelo said that “this has nothing to do with freedom of expression or freedom of the press,” and that the Department of Justice had found probable cause that a crime had been committed. As a result, an arrest warrant was issued by the NBI.
International groups were quick to issue statements.
Amnesty International, the London-based non-governmental organization focused on human rights, said that the arrest was clearly politically motivated.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said that the arrest is “a shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
In response to criticism aimed at his government, President Duterte called Rappler a fake news outlet, suggesting that it works with the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency CIA.
Reporters Without Borders for Freedom of Information’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index ranks the Philippines #133. Canada ranks #18 on the list.
While Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, is a strong advocate of press freedom, his government has faced a number of criticisms from press freedom groups in the past four years.
While press freedom is guaranteed in Canada under the 1982 Constitution, a number of high profile cases pull down Canada’s ranking in the index.
A reporter from Vice Canada is challenging a court order forcing him to hand over documents relating to a confidential source from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police RCMP.
A reporter from The Independent is also facing ciminal charges as a result of his coverage of protests against a hydroelectric project in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Recent closures of independent newspapers also threatened media pluralism in Canada, as does the Government of Canada’s new draft for the controversial Bill C-51, which restricts the flow of online information for national security reasons.
The Philippines ranks #133 on the index.
Shortly after being elect in 2016, President Duterte said that “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.”
Four reporters were killed in 2017, with journalists who are critical of local politicians often targeted by hired guns.
President Duterte’s controversial war on drugs is heavily criticized by both local and international media. The Duterte government has filed legal cases against media organizations including Rappler, as a result of reports critical of government policies.
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