Award-winning Phillipine journalist, Maria Ressa has been freed on bail after she was arrested late Wednesday on charges of libel. Her arrest sparked international condemnation and allegations that she is being targeted over her news platform’s criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Editor of the Rappler website, she was detained at the National Bureau of Investigation in the capital, Manila on charges of ‘cyber libel’ which has a prison term of 12 years.
The Rappler website is known of being deeply critical of Duterte’s administration and his controversial crackdown on illicit drugs that killed thousands of people. Both Ressa and the site have been previously slapped with tax evasion charges.
“It’s about two things: abuse of power and weaponisation of the law,” Ressa told reporters on Thursday. She had paid 100,000 pesos ($1,900) as bail, the sixth time she’s done so to avoid detention.
“What we are seeing is death by a thousand cuts to our democracy,” she said. She was earlier awarded as TIME Person of the Year along with three others.
— Maria Ressa (@mariaressa) February 14, 2019
Supporters of press freedom and human rights groups stated that Ressa had been arrested on ‘trumped-up charges’ aimed at intimidating journalists who criticise Duterte’s rule, according to an Al Jazeera reported. The accusation has been denied by the government of the Philippines.
“Ms Ressa being a media practitioner and a high ranking officer of a media outfit critical of the president’s programmes and policies has nothing to do with the present circumstances she is currently in,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said, adding that the administration respected the judiciary and did not meddle in how it handles cases in courts.
“Freedom of expression, as critics of this administration erroneously suggest, is absolutely unrelated with Ms Ressa’s probable violation of the country’s laws,” Panelo added.
(With inputs from Al Jazeera, agencies)