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Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa arrested on ‘cyber libel’ charges

The CEO and executive editor of Philippines news portal Rappler has been arrested on a ‘cyber libel’ charge.

Maria Ressa’s arrest is being viewed by many media industry observers as the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between the Rodrigo Dueterte-led government in the Philippines and Rappler, which has emerged as a strong critic of the government and its policies – particularly its controversial war against drugs.

The government had previously ordered the site to be taken down and accused it of tax violations. Ressa was arrested on a cyber libel charge based on a report on the site in 2012, which was updated in 2014.

The charge was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in 2017. According to a report on Rappler detailing the arrest, the Philippines department of justice recommended Keng filed a ‘cyber libel’ charge – even though the controversial story was first published four months before a law on cyber libel had been put in place.

Rappler also argued that the statute of limitations on libel — one year in the Philippines — should also apply to cyber libel.

A report on Rappler detailing the arrest said: “The Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the filing in court of cyber libel charges against Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr over a story published in May 2012 – or 4 months before the law that they allegedly violated was enacted.”

An attempt by Rappler to post bail was allegedly rejected by the judge at the night court at Passay.

The Filipino-American Ressa is a celebrated journalist having previously been bureau chief for CNN at Manila and Jakarta. Rappler was launched in 2012 after a brief existence as a page on Facebook. 

Last November, she won the Glen Ifill Press Freedom Award instituted by the Committee to Protect Journalists – an independent non-profit committed to protecting the freedom of press around the world.  

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