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Ressa posts bail for cyberlibel charge

14 February 2019

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, who has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested in her Manila office on Wednesday in what rights advocates called an act of "persecution". She kept at it anyway, pushing ahead with her writing and speaking amid ever-escalating threats.

The article included allegations the businessman was linked to illegal drugs and human trafficking, and that a auto registered in his name had been used by the country's chief justice.

Ms Ressa has won many global awards for her reporting, and was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for her work holding power to account in an increasingly hostile environment. He called Rappler a "fake news outlet" and banned a reporter from covering his events.

NBI agents served an arrest warrant on Ressa as courts were closing yesterday over a cyber libel charge in connection with an article published months before the passage of the law which defines and penalizes the crime of cyber libel.

A year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler's incorporation papers, citing its alleged violation of the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.

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Aside cyber libel, Ressa also faces tax evasion charges and violation of the anti-dummy law.

Ressa, who was named a Time Person of the year in 2018, posted bail of 100,000 Philippine pesos (£1,400) on Thursday morning and was released.

Duterte's spokesman said the charge against Ressa was based on facts which she should simply answer and had "nothing to do" with press freedom. However, the law was not passed until September 2012. After a three-part series Rappler published in October of that year, on social media propaganda, she said she was pummeled by an average of 90 hate messages per hour. In a statement, Rappler said Ressa did not edit the story in question and warned the charges could set a troubling precedent. "No one is safe". Duterte's government responded to the accolade by insisting that press freedom in the country remained "robust" and that Duterte "cannot intrude into that".

Philippine authorities have denied there are political motivations behind any of the moves, but both within and beyond the Philippines, the targeting of a prominent Duterte critic is seen as a test of Philippine democracy.

The Committee to Project Journalists described Ressa's latest arrest as "legal harassment" that has reached a critical juncture. The magazine said it wanted to emphasize the importance of reporters' work in an increasingly hostile world. "It's a new weapon against journalists".

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Whatever the outcome of the cases, reporters and rights groups worry that the sight of one of the country's most influential journalists being escorted to jail will have a chilling effect in the Philippines and across the region, a setback in what has been a risky, deadly year for journalists around the world.

Rappler reporters said on Twitter that one of the arresting NBI agents tried to stop them from recording the service of the arrest warrant.

"These cases are meant to intimidate us", Chay Hofilena, Rappler's investigative editor, told media.

Maria Ressa, center, stands on stage at a 2018 New Year's Eve celebration in New York's Times Square.

"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", Ressa said in a statement. "If the warrant was handed to us, we would do the same thing", Gapas told The Manila Times in interview.

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Ressa posts bail for cyberlibel charge