Feb. 14 (UPI) — Journalist and Time magazine’s 2018 “Person of the Year” was released from jail Thursday after posting bail for cyber libel, a charge seen by freedom of speech advocates as a way to muzzle the media.
Maria Ressa, 55, was arrested by plainclothes National Bureau of Investigation agents after hours Wednesday on cyber libel charges that stem from a 2012 article alleging ties between businessman Wilfredo Keng and a then Supreme Court chief justice, ABS-CBN reported.
The article was published months before the cyber libel law was created, Rappler said in a timeline of events on its website that also states investigators dismissed Keng’s complaint in February 2018 for it only to be revived eight days later.
Ressa, the CEO of Rappler, a news website critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, specifically his anti-drug campaign that has killed thousands, posted the P100,000 ($1,900) bail early Thursday, calling the charges an “abuse of power and weaponization of law.”
“This is not just about me, and it is not just about Rappler. The message the government is sending is very clear and someone actually told our reporter this: be silent,” she told reporters after posting bail, ABS-CBN News reported.
“I’m saying and appealing to you not to be silent, even if and especially if you’re next,” she said, adding that democracy in the Philippine’s was slowing dying.
This is the sixth time she has posted bail in the past two months, she said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday that Ressa’s arrest was as procedure, CNN Philippines reported.
Following her arrest Wednesday, Rappler released a statement saying that the news organization would not be intimated.
“If this is another of several attempts to intimidate us, it will not succeed, as past attempts have shown. Maria Ressa and Rappler will continue to do our jobs as journalists. We will continue to tell the truth and report what we see and hear. We are first and foremost journalists, we are truthtellers,” it said.
David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, twitted that Ressa’s detention was “simply intolerable.”
“Let’s be clear: this very serious escalation is harassment of media inconsistent w #Philippines obligations to promote & protect freedom of expression,” he said.
let’s be clear: this very serious escalation is harassment of media inconsistent w #Philippines obligations to promote & protect freedom of expression—>Rappler CEO @mariaressa arrested for cyber libel https://t.co/TnzPeGcFzo via @rapplerdotcom
— David Kaye (@davidakaye) February 13, 2019
Committee to Protect Journalists Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin called on the Philippine government to drop the “spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler.”
In a statement on the CPJ website, Crispin described Ressa’s arrest as “legal harassment” against Rappler and that it had reached a “critical and alarming juncture.”
Ressa said she will appeal the charges.