(Eagle News) — Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was freed on bail Thursday after spending the night at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila whose agents arrested her late Wednesday afternoon on a “cyber libel” case.
“You are hereby directed to discharge from your custody the person of Maria Angelita Ressa,” the court said in a written order to investigators after Ressa posted bail.
Ressa questioned her arrest for a cyber libel case that stemmed from a report written by former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr., in May 2012.
A businessman complained about the report in 2017, saying the article had put him in bad light as it claimed that he was somehow involved in “illegal activities” such as “human trafficking and drug smuggling.”
But Ressa, 55, said that the arrest was an attack on journalists in the Philippines as a whole.
“It crosses another line. Is that what it takes to be a journalist in the Philippines today?” Ressa told reporters.
“We are just telling the story of what’s happening. So, they went through a lot of effort to have me here tonight,” she said.
Rappler Holdings Corp., and Ressa have been earlier hit with tax evasion case for which she had posted a total of P204,000 bail before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) in December last year.
For the cyber libel case, Ressa paid P100,000.
“It’s about two things: abuse of power and weaponisation of the law,” an emotional Ressa told journalists as she stepped out of a Manila court where she posted bail.
“What we are seeing is death by a thousand cuts to our democracy,” she added.
-International condemnation for Ressa’s arrest-
International condemnation from dignitaries and press freedom and human rights groups has poured in since plainclothes agents appeared at Rappler to serve an arrest warrant on the charge that carries up to 12 years behind bars.
“The arrest of Maria Ressa is an outrage,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Board Chair Kathleen Carroll. “She should be freed immediately and the Philippines government needs to cease its multi-pronged attack on Rappler.”
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also stood by Ressa.
“The arrest of journalist @mariaressa by the Philippine government is outrageous and must be condemned by all democratic nations,” Albright said in a tweet where she called Ressa a friend.
The legal foundation of the cyber libel case is a controversial law aiming to crack down on online offences ranging from harassment to child pornography.
Ressa’s team has argued the legislation did not take effect until months after the story was published and is not retroactive, however the government has countered that it is fair game because the story was updated in 2014.
“In essence in the contemplation of the law it is a new article because of the modification, republication,” Markk Perete, spokesman for Department of Justice prosecutors, told AFP. “That is deemed as a new article.”
Rappler concedes the story was updated, but notes it was to fix a typo and no substantive changes were made.
The businessman who sued Rappler, Wilfredo Keng, on Thursday welcomed the charges as he said the website “destroyed my reputation and endangered my life”.
Ressa insists the site is not anti-Duterte, saying it is just doing its job to hold the government to account.
(with a report from Agence France Presse)