Explained: Who Is Maria Ressa And Why Has She Been Arrested By Philippines Authorities
Maria Ressa, an award-winning journalist from Philippines, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of “cyber libel” that carries a 12-year prison sentence. Her arrest was followed by international condemnation, and she was given bail on Thursday after she had spent the night in detention at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.
Who is Maria Ressa?
One of the most highly regarded journalists of the Philippines, Maria Ressa has spent close to two decades as an investigative reporter, foreign correspondent and as the Jakarta bureau chief of CNN. In the course of her career in journalism, Ressa has won several international awards. In 2018, she was in the list of Time magazine’s Persons of the Year. She is also a leading expert on Islamic terrorism in South East Asia and has authored two books on the issue.
Since 2012, Ressa has been best known for having founded Rappler, an online news platform which changed the paradigms of digital journalism by pushing its own style of mobile-first videos. Over time, it has grown into being the fourth largest news website in the Philippines, and has been mostly involved in fighting the propagation of fake news.
Ever since President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in 2016, Ressa’s organisation has been actively conducting fact checks on fake news being propagated by the President’s online “troll army”. Rappler has also been critical of the extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses being carried out as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs.
What are the charges against her?
Ressa has been charged under “cyber libel”, which is a charge against defamation conducted through digital media, for an article her website published back in 2012. In the report she revealed alleged connections between Filipino businessman Wildredo Keng and the country’s top judge. The businessman first complained in 2017, and then again last year. Rappler has said that the law under which she has been charged had not been enacted at the time the article was published.
This is not the first time that Ressa has been targeted by the Filipino authorities. In 2017, the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began an investigation into alleged tax evasion by Rappler. She was arrested in November 2018, and was bailed out days later. The case, which Ressa had said was “politically motivated”, is ongoing.