NEW YORK (February 13, 2019) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the arbitrary arrest of Maria Ressa, renowned journalist and vocal critic of President Duterte, and calls on the Philippines government to release her immediately. On February 12, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Ressa on the trumped-up charge of “cyber libel.” She was arrested the following day. Her request to post bail was denied despite her meeting bail conditions.
The arrest comes shortly after Ressa’s appearance on the cover of TIME magazine’s 2018 “Person of the Year” issue, which recognized her for her brave reporting on Duterte’s rise as the authoritarian leader of the Philippines. Ressa and the Rappler, an independent media outlet that Ressa co-founded, have been targeted by the Duterte administration for criticizing its policies, especially its violent campaign against drug dealers and drug users. Under President Duterte’s leadership, the Philippines government’s war on drugs has seen thousands of extrajudicial killings that could amount to crimes against humanity. Last year, Ressa posted bail on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, and the Rappler’s registration was temporarily revoked.
“Journalists like Maria Ressa offer a public service that is absolutely essential to protecting the rights and freedoms that, with Duterte in power, are under great threat in the Philippines. The Rappler holds Duterte accountable and makes his crimes known at home and abroad, and for this reason, his administration will stop at nothing until it is shut down for good,” said Joy Park, legal counsel for Asia at HRF. “Ressa’s arrest proves that courts in the Philippines are no longer independent, and are now serving Duterte’s will. We call on the Philippines to respect press freedom and drop all charges against Ressa immediately.”
President Duterte has repeatedly tried to discredit the Rappler as a legitimate news outlet by using the “fake news” rhetoric. Ressa’s current charge stems from a 7-year-old news story about a businessman with ties to a government official. However, the story was published four months before the “cyber libel” law was enacted, a fact that Ressa’s supporters have highlighted to prove that the charge was indeed politically motivated.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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