Maria Ressa, Journalist Critical of Duterte, Is Arrested Again as Crackdown Widens

Maria Ressa, Journalist Critical of Duterte, Is Arrested Again as Crackdown Widens


Maria Ressa, the co-founder of an online news start-up critical of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, has been arrested a second time as the Duterte administration steps up its campaign against a news outlet that has been sharply critical of his government.

The latest charges against Ms. Ressa accuse her and members of her news outlet, Rappler, of violating laws regarding foreign ownership of the company. She was arrested on Friday morning in Manila as she got off a plane from San Francisco.

“What can you say?” Ms. Ressa said as she walked through the glass doors from the baggage claim area at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila early Friday morning. Flanked by two police officers, she stopped to tell a small group of reporters that she planned to post bail of $1,700 to secure her release.

Her arrest is the latest move in a broader crackdown on the news media by Mr. Duterte, who has accused reporters of being “spies” and “sons of bitches.”

Under his administration, Mr. Duterte has created a difficult and at times hostile environment for reporters. He has leveled death threats against some reporters and said that none should be “exempted from assassination.”

At one point Rappler was so concerned about the safety of its reporters that senior editors debated whether to install bulletproof glass in their Manila newsroom.

Ms. Ressa’s latest arrest also comes as journalists around the world face increasing pressure from political strongmen who in many cases rode to power on a wave of populism. When challenged by the news media, some of these leaders have accused reporters of making up the news.

“This latest episode is not surprising and we prepared ourselves for it,” Francis Lim, Ms. Ressa’s lawyer, said in a statement. “But let it be crystal clear that these acts of harassment will not deter our clients from doing their duty as journalists. We believe in the rule of law and it is our fervent hope that we will prevail in the end.”

Rappler, a scrappy investigative and entertainment website that Ms. Ressa started in 2012, has been the principal focus of much of Mr. Duterte’s campaign against the news media in the Philippines. Last year its license was revoked, and it is currently facing 11 charges.

There are also seven outstanding charges against Ms. Ressa herself, including defamation, evading taxes and violating complex security laws.

“Rappler has clearly become the whipping boy of the Duterte administration as it seeks to silence or intimidate the independent and critical press,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Rappler and other news media outlets in the country have doggedly covered a brutal war waged by Mr. Duterte against drug dealers and users that has left thousands of people dead. The coverage has helped prompt international rebuke.

The list of cases and charges against Ms. Ressa and Rappler can be difficult to keep track of. In the latest case, Ms. Ressa and members of Rappler have been accused of violating a law that prohibits foreigners from financing a large part of a Filipino company.

It is similar to another case against Ms. Ressa and Rappler that was brought by the Philippines’s Department of Justice and centers on a 2015 investment by the Omidyar Network, an American company owned by eBay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar. In that case, Ms. Ressa turned herself in to the authorities in December after an arrest warrant was issued.

The investment by Omidyar is the focus of yet another case that was brought by the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission and led to the revocation of Rappler’s license to operate. The charges in that case accuse Rappler of acting like a “dealer in securities” rather than a news organization.

In February, Ms. Ressa was arrested at the airport in Manila in a case related to digital libel. Afater a judge denied bail, she stayed the night in detention before posting bail the next morning.

The latest case also includes charges against Rappler’s managing editor, Glenda Gloria, and people who were on the news media outlet’s board of directors in 2016.

Soon after being ushered into a police van on Friday, Ms. Ressa posted a picture on Twitter of her view inside the vehicle, showing an officer in a helmet and bulletproof vest.

“Seriously?!?!” she wrote. “Imagine the tax pesos wasted.”





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