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Philippines journalist freed on bail

February 15, 2019

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MANILA: Philippines journalist Maria Ressa was freed on bail on Thursday following an arrest that sparked international censure and allegations she is being targeted over her news site’s criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ressa, 55, spent a night in detention after authorities arrested the veteran reporter at her Manila office on Wednesday in a sharp upping of government pressure on her and her website Rappler.

“The message that the government is sending is very clear ... be silent or you’re next,” an emotional Ressa told reporters outside a Manila court.

She stumped up a bond of 100,000-pesos ($1,900), the sixth time since December she has paid bail on a government case. “I am appealing to you not to be silent, even if — and especially if — you’re next,” added Ressa, who was named a Time magazine “Person of the Year” in 2018 for her journalism.

International condemnation from dignitaries, press freedom and human rights groups has poured in since plainclothes agents appeared at Rappler to serve an arrest warrant. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted she was “deeply troubled” by Ressa’s arrest on Wednesday. “A free press is a bedrock of democracy. Canada reiterates its call for due process to be respected and for journalists to be free from harassment and intimidation,” Freeland added.

The libel case against Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr. stems from a 2012 report written about a businessman’s alleged ties to a then-judge on the nation’s top court.

The businessman who accused Rappler, Wilfredo Keng, on Thursday welcomed the charges, saying the website “destroyed my reputation and endangered my life”.

Duterte said late Thursday he did not know Keng or his motive for filing the case, and dismissed allegations the suit was part of a media crackdown. “Far from it, actually,” he told reporters, saying he had never prosecuted the press during his more than 20 years as a government official.

Duterte has lashed out at other critical media outfits, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and broadcaster ABS-CBN.

He threatened to go after their owners over alleged unpaid taxes or block the network’s franchise renewal application.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2019