Philippine Agents Arrest Journalist Critical of President

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on Wednesday

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on Wednesday

The United Nations was trying to gather more detail on the case, said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding: "The Secretary-General (Antonio Guterres) has always stood strong for freedom of the press and for governments to allow journalists to do their work".

Ressa spent a night in detention after authorities arrested the veteran reporter at her Manila office Wednesday in a sharp upping of government pressure on her and her website Rappler. An officer part of the serving party prohibits Rappler employees from taking photos and videos inside the office.

Ressa's lawyer Jose Jesus Disini said he expected her to be released early on Thursday afternoon.

Ms Ressa and a former Rappler researcher, Reynaldo Santos Jr, were indicted recently, the Department of Justice said.

The businessman filed the libel complaint five years after the article appeared in 2012, and the law under which Ressa was charged by the government, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, did not go into effect until months after the article's publication, according to Rappler.

Ressa is accused of cyber libel over a 2012 Rappler article, which was updated in 2014, that linked a Filipino businessman to murder, human trafficking and drug smuggling.

The website argued that the reversal of the initial government decision not to bring charges, based on the fact that the article was updated after the relevant law's enactment, set a "a unsafe precedent that puts anyone - not just the media - who publishes anything online perennially in danger of being charged with libel".

On Wednesday, presiding Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa denied bail to Ressa.

"That's absolutely unrelated. The president has been criticized and he does not bother", Panelo told DZMM radio.

"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.

Since Ressa launched Rappler with other high profile journalists about seven years ago, it has become known for its thorough investigations on the extrajudicial killings in Duterte's war on drugs. Like populist authoritarian leaders elsewhere, he alternately basks in the spotlight and dismisses reporters as peddlers of "fake news".

Staff have also described professional hurdles and threats. After a three-part series Rappler published in October of that year, on social media propaganda, she said she was pummeled by an average of 90 hate messages per hour. Reporter Pia Ranada was harassed and banned from covering the president's palace. Managing editor Glenda Gloria found a black funeral wreath on her doorstep.

Ressa has played a key role in raising awareness about threats to journalists at home and overseas. "Like any digital media outlet, it's not highly profitable", he says.

He says the CPJ and the Omidyar Network have set up a legal defense fund with a target of half a million dollars which will be available to Rappler.

'The government. now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence critical media'.

After Ressa was taken into custody, a rally formed outside of the National Bureau of Investigation. Duterte's government responded to the accolade by insisting that press freedom in the country remained "robust" and that Duterte "cannot intrude into that".

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