Journalists body condemns the arrest of Philippine’s Maria Ressa

Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of online news site Rappler and President of Rappler

New York, Feb 14 (IANS) The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the arrest of Maria Ressa, the chief of news portal Rappler, who was arrested earlier on Wednesday in Manila for an alleged “cyber libel” case.

“Freedom of the press is an essential pillar of democracy and Human Rights. The arrest in the Philippines of Maria Ressa, founder and executive editor of the news website Rappler, is an alarming development,” CPJ said in a statement to the media

It also called on the government to “immediately release” the journalist and “drop all charges” against her, Efe news reported. Rappler’s investigative report linked Keng to alleged drug and human trafficking.

CPJ’s board chair Kathleen Carroll said that “the arrest of Maria Ressa is an outrage”, adding that “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”.

The organisation said on Wednesday the letter was launched after its board of directors, made up of influential journalists, approved an exceptional resolution in a meeting held at their New York headquarters.

Ressa was arrested in her office at the Rappler headquarters in Manila, for a story published in May 2012 about local businessman Wilfredo Keng.

The Justice Department of the Philippines filed charges of “cyber libel” against Rappler, Ressa, as the portal’s CEO, and investigative journalist Reynaldo Santos for the story published in 2012.

Three Justice Department prosecutors ruled in Keng’s favour in January even though Keng filed his complaint five years after the report was published, even though the statute of limitations established by Philippine law for a defamation charge is only one year.

Rappler has been very critical of the administration of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. However, this not the only case pending against Ressa.

Last November, an arrest warrant was issued against her on five charges of alleged tax evasion. Ressa had posted bail at the time and the case is still pending trial.

The Philippine President has made no secret of his hostility towards Rappler, accusing it of being financed by the CIA and banning its reporters from the presidential palace in February 2018.

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