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Journalist Maria Ressa fighting for free speech after another arrest

Journalist Maria Ressa fights for freedom

Journalist Maria Ressa is fighting for free speech after she was arrested for a second time in less than two months by the Philippine government. Ressa is the CEO and executive editor of the online news site Rappler, which has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.

She was arrested in February for alleged cyber libel — under a law that wasn't even in effect at the time she published the story in question in 2012. Then Ressa was arrested again at the end of March. This time the charge stems from a claim that Rappler received investments from the U.S.-based Omidyar Network, a violation of law preventing the ownership or management of domestic media organizations by foreign interests.

Ressa, an award-winning journalist who was honored as one of Time magazine's "Persons of the Year" in 2018, has also been targeted for a wide range of other alleged violations, including tax evasion. She told CBSN Wednesday she recently had her first arraignment and pleaded not guilty.

"We have increased security both for my reporters, our journalists in the office and I am aware of the risks there. But you know, frankly, this is the time to demand an end to impunity," Ressa said.

Online attacks against Ressa and Rappler started in 2016, after publishing a series on social media propaganda. In 2017, Duterte claimed in a speech that Rappler was owned by the U.S.  Months later, the company's license was cancelled.

Her commitment to reporting comes at a time when Duterte's war on drugs becomes increasingly bleak. He vowed to use any tactic necessary and has publicly endorsed the killing of accused drug dealers. Ressa said the latest estimate from the United Nations finds as many as 27,000 people have been killed since July of 2016.

"Our folks would come home every night and it would be an average of eight dead people a night. And that's when we knew the death toll was going to be important. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep track of exactly how many people have died," Ressa said.

Rappler has also covered the role social media plays in allowing misinformation to spread, which is key since she said 97 percent of Filipinos on the internet use Facebook.

Ressa was recently awarded the 2018 Tully Free Speech Award at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.