Journalists, human rights advocates, universities back Maria Ressa after arrest  

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019. (Photo: Maria Tan, AFP)
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019. (Photo: Maria Tan, AFP)

Journalists, human rights advocates, and universities are backing embattled journalist Maria Ressa and have denounced her arrest yesterday.

Ressa, who is the CEO and executive editor of Rappler, a news website that has been critical of the Duterte administration, was detained and spent the night at the National Bureau of Investigation’s headquarters in Manila yesterday after authorities refused her bail.

She plans to post bail again today, CNN Philippines reported.

Ressa was arrested in connection to a cyber libel charge from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that indicted Ressa and Rappler for an article published in May 2012.

The complaint was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng. The story in question reported that Keng allegedly loaned vehicles to the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached in 2012 for undeclared wealth. Keng has denied this allegation.

International and local journalists have expressed their support for Ressa and decried her arrest on social media.

CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to free Ressa.

“You know a government is desperate when they arrest a journalist,” she tweeted. Amanpour also tagged UNESCO and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in her post.

The CPJ, a New York-based non-governmental organization that promotes press freedom, for its part, denounced Ressa’s arrest, with its Chair Kathleen Carroll calling it “an outrage.”

“She should be freed immediately and the Philippines government needs to cease its multi-pronged attack on Rappler, its talented leader, and its brave staff,” Carroll said in a statement published this morning.

The CPJ honored Ressa with its Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in November.

Filipino news anchor Karen Davila, meanwhile, said Ressa’s arrest was “clear harassment.”

“The government’s message, Maria Ressa today & any of you… tomorrow,” she tweeted.

Many are questioning the validity of Ressa’s arrest as the article in question was published in May 2012 and the Cybercrime Law covering such charges was only passed in September of that year.

Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde called Ressa’s arrest and the other cases filed against her and Rappler “politically motivated.”

“The cases against Ressa and Rappler appear designed not only to intimidate the website, but to eventually shut it down,” Conde said in an article published today.

Apart from the cyber libel case, Rappler’s license was also revoked in January last year. Ressa and Rappler also face a number of tax cases.

One of the Philippines’ top educational institutions, the Ateneo de Manila University backed Ressa and praised her for consistently holding the line against the erosion of people’s rights and liberties.

“As a university, we are committed to using our resources as educators to make the truth come to light. As citizens, it is our obligation to defend the truth,” University President Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ said in a statement.

De La Salle Philippines also called on its community to support Ressa.

“Let’s give our all out support as Lasallians to Rappler. Let’s defend press freedom. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s vote with our feet and stand with Maria Ressa,” Br. Armin Luistro FSC, a Lasallian religious brother and former Department of Education secretary said in a tweet.

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