Journalist Maria Ressa was arrested on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Rappler news outlet, the latest in an authoritarian crackdown on journalists by the Duterte government in the Philippines. In the crackdown, the Duterte government has repeatedly targeted Rappler, accusing the outlet of “fake news.”
Rappler was founded in 2012, since then Maria has not been afraid to criticize the government. The website has investigated government corruption and the impunity of the powerful.
Plainclothes officers arrived at Rappler’s offices around 5 p.m. and law enforcement told staff to stop taking photos and videos. “We’ll go after you too,” an officer told reporters, according to Rappler.
Maria was charged with libel by the Department of Justice. Maria said in a statement, “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.”
The charges stem from a story published in 2012, before the country’s cyber crime prevention law went into effect. Years after the article came out, a wealthy businessman named Wilfredo Keng complained about the article linking him to human trafficking. It seems that based on the article being updated in 2014, it fell under the new law. On Wednesday, judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa denied bail to Maria.
Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin said in a statement, “We call on Filipino authorities to immediately release Ressa, drop this spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler.”