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Philippines rearrests Duterte critic Maria Ressa

March 30, 2019


Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa

MANILA: Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, a prominent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was rearrested on Friday in what press freedom advocates called retaliation for her news site’s dogged coverage of the government.

Ressa and her website Rappler have been hit with a string of criminal charges in recent months that have sent shockwaves through the Philippines’ media scene, prompting allegations she and her team are being targeted for their work.

The latest charges allege she and colleagues at Rappler violated rules on foreign ownership of media. She was taken into custody after arriving at Manila’s airport from a trip abroad.

“The press in this country is under attack... We won’t take the threat sitting down,” Ressa told reporters after her release on the equivalent of $1,700 bail.

“The rule of law has been weaponised.” Rappler has reported extensively, and unflatteringly, on Duterte’s deadly narcotics crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives and which rights groups say may be a crime against humanity.

Duterte has also 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.

Ressa, 55, and six other current and former Rappler associates are accused of allowing foreigners, through a 2015 bond sale, to take control of the website.

Under the constitution, investment in media is reserved for Filipinos or Filipino-controlled entities.

This case and most of the 10 previous ones against Rappler spring from the 2015 investment from the US-based Omidyar Network, which was established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Philippine authorities first 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.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2019