The arrest of Maria Ressa, a Time Person of the Year, award-winning journalist and frequent critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, has renewed fears for the future of press freedom in the southeast Asian nation and around the region.
Ressa, co-founder of online news outlet Rappler and former CNN bureau chief, was arrested in connection with “cyber libel” charges against her media company on Wednesday, which critics decry as politically motivated. She posted bail the following day, after spending a night in custody.
Rappler’s extensive reporting on Duterte’s brutal war on drugs has earned praise from human rights advocates but has made it a target for Duterte’s administration and its supporters. Last year, the government temporarily revoked Rappler’s operating license, and charged it with tax evasion.
Despite frequent verbal attacks and obstacles raised by the Duterte administration, Rappler is admired for its fearless reporting on the country’s deadly war on drugs and scores of other issues with the current government, including its treatment of opposition politicians.
In the light of its uncompromising record, Ressa’s arrest has been widely seen by human rights and journalist activist groups as a warning shot to the press.
“Rappler is a giant here, their body of work is really something,” says Carlos Conde, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Manila.
“Trying to undermine or to sideline Maria Ressa or Rappler is a huge assault on the press in the Philippines,” Conde says.