Politically Motivated Arrest of Philippine Journalist

Rappler chief Maria Ressa. File

London-based Amnesty International said Duterte's administration was using the law to "relentlessly intimidate and harass journalists".

However, Duterte's spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said the libel case had nothing to do with the government and that Duterte had no interest in punishing journalists who challenged him. An officer part of the serving party prohibits Rappler employees from taking photos and videos inside the office.

Rappler's reporting has accused his administration of creating a social media "ecosystem" designed to defend Duterte and threaten and discredit opponents, which the government denies.

Officers of the National Bureau of Investigation arrested Ressa from the headquarters of Rappler in Manila.

In the tax case, the government accuses Rappler Holdings Corp., Ressa and the site's accountant of failing to pay taxes on 2015 bond sales that it alleges netted gains of 162.5 million pesos ($3 million).

Journalists at the Rappler office live-streamed Ressa's arrest on Facebook and Twitter.

"What we are seeing is death by a thousand cuts to our democracy", added Ressa, who was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for her journalism.

"These legal acrobatics show how far the government will go to silence journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail", Ressa said in a statement.

The article included allegations that the businessman was linked to illegal drugs and human trafficking, and that a vehicle registered in his name had been used by the country's chief justice.

Rappler's CEO Maria Ressa waits inside the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila, Philippines, February 13, 2019.

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As she was being ushered out of her office, Ressa said she was shocked by her sudden arrest. "This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought", it continued.

Official estimates put the number of dead from the Filipino president's widely-criticised war on drugs at 5,000, but a senator recently said it had claimed more than 20,000 lives.

In a January 10 decision, the Department of Justice (DoJ) recommended that the Manila court indict Ressa and Santos.

"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 now in", presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said, adding that the administration respected the judiciary and did not meddle in how it handles cases in courts.

Rappler is one of several news agencies deemed critical of Duterte's policies, which has seen his describe the outlet as "fake news".

Mr Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after the Government's corporate watchdog found the news site violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it received money from an worldwide investment firm.

In 2012, she and three fellow female journalists came together to form Rappler, a online news platform with an ethos similar to a tech start-up, operating with a small team of 12 young reporters and developers. Ressa told the Guardian the charges were "without basis and clearly politically motivated".

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of media personnel, also denounced condemned Ressa's detention. "We call on Filipino authorities to immediately release Ressa, drop this spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler", Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin said in a statement.

"The manner in which Ressa has been pursued by the Government, by slapping legal cases against her, is not only shameful but also a gross and wilful violation of press freedom."

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