The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists, today strongly condemned the arrest of Maria Ressa, founder of the news website Rappler, by the Philippine authorities on libel charges.
Ressa was arrested today in Manila by National Bureau of Investigation officials in connection with a “cyber libel” case filed by the Philippine justice department. In a short statement, Ressa said that she was unaware of the case and would post bail.
“The arrest of Maria Ressa is an outrageous attempt by the Philippines government to silence a news organization that has been courageously investigating corruption and human rights violations in the country”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “The manner in which Ressa has been pursued by the government by slapping legal cases against her is not only shameful but also a gross and wilful violation of press freedom.”
The government has brought five tax cases and an alleged violation of nationality law (“anti-dummy law”) against Ressa. Rappler has been a target of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has made false allegations against the media organization and accused it of being funded by foreign agencies to destabilize his government. Rappler’s journalists are barred from covering the president’s events across the country.
IPI and International Media Support (IMS) awarded the 2018 Free Media Pioneer award to Rappler in recognition of the site’s innovative approach to journalism and audience engagement as well as its determination to hold authorities accountable despite aggressive attacks on its operations.
Ressa’s arrest comes amid a sustained and vicious campaign against independent media and critical journalists in The Philippines. Just five days ago the website of the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines came under cyber attack. Several other media organizations have faced cyber attacks beginning in December 2018.