Philippines: Beleaguered journalist Maria Ressa arrested again

Rappler news site reported extensively on President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drugs crackdown that has killed thousands.

    Philippine journalist Maria Ressa has been arrested for the second time in what press freedom advocates say is retaliation for her news site's criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte.

    Ressa and her website Rappler have been hit with a string of criminal charges that have sent shockwaves through the Philippine media scene, prompting allegations they are being targeted for their work.

    The veteran reporter, named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018, was taken into custody by authorities in Manila on Friday, said Rappler cofounder Beth Frondoso.

    "They got her at the airport," Frondoso said. "We will be filing bail."

    Ressa, who holds Philippine and American passports, later received bail.

    "You cannot harass and intimidate journalists to silence. We'll stand up and fight against it," the award-winning journalist told reporters after posting bail of $1,700.

    Lawsuits against news platform Rappler have drawn global concern about a free and open media in the democratic Southeast Asian country.

    Rappler and its officials are now facing 11 cases, said Ressa, who posted bail for the seventh time.

    She was taken into custody on a charge that she allowed her name to be used to circumvent a Philippine law against foreign ownership of media properties, a charge that stems from a 2015 investment in Rappler.

    Under the constitution, the media is an economic sector that is reserved for Filipinos or Filipino-controlled entities.

    'Unprecedented'

    Philippine authorities arrested Ressa in February on an internet libel charge, which sparked international condemnation and allegations that she was being targeted for Rappler's critical stance on Duterte.

    "This case against Ressa ... 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 Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.

    Rappler has reported extensively, and unflatteringly, on Duterte's deadly anti-drugs crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives and which rights groups say may be a crime against humanity.

    The narcotics crackdown is Duterte's signature initiative and he fiercely defends it against criticism.

    High-profile critics have wound up in jail or been pushed out of their jobs in government, including the nation's first female chief justice of the Supreme Court.

    'Acts of harassment'

    Ressa insists the site is not anti-Duterte, saying it is just doing its job to hold the government to account.

    This latest case comes after she as well as current and former associates of Rappler have been bitten by government prosecutors with tax and securities fraud charges.

    The country's corporate regulator revoked Rappler's business licence last year over the bond sale, but the site continued operating as it appealed the case in the courts.

    Last month, Ressa spent a night in detention but eventually posted bail for allegedly libelling a businessman in a news article written in 2012.

    Ressa's legal team said this latest case would not stop Rappler from doing its work.

    "Let it be clear that these acts of harassment will not deter our clients from doing their duty as journalists," legal counsel Francis Lim said in a statement. "We believe in the rule of law."

    Duterte vs Rappler: Media on notice in the Philippines

    The Listening Post

    Duterte vs Rappler: Media on notice in the Philippines

    SOURCE: AFP news agency