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Maria Ressa, Rappler news boss, arrested in Philippines for 2nd time in 2 months

Maria Ressa calls for press freedom at rally

Maria Ressa, a prominent press freedom advocate and boss of the Rappler news website, was arrested by authorities in the Philippines on Friday -- the second time the journalist has been detained in less than two months.

Ressa is editor and CEO of Rappler and has been named a TIME Person of the Year for advocacy for democracy. She is a frequent critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

She was detained on Friday for alleged violations of Philippine laws preventing the ownership or management of domestic media entities by foreign interests.

She was detained as she arrived at Manila's international airport on Friday but later posted bail and was freed.

"Every action takes us farther into a descent into tyranny," she told journalists outside the court in Pasig city. "This is the weaponization of the law." She flew into Manila on Friday from the U.S., after securing permission to travel while the various cases against her proceed.

PHILIPPINES-MEDIA-COURT
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa gestures as she speaks to members of the media after posting bail outside a court building in Manila, Philippines, March 29, 2019. Getty

He lawyer Francis Lim said in a statement that Ressa and Rappler found the arrest "not surprising" and noted that they had "prepared ourselves for it." Some of her Rappler colleagues accused with her of the new charges posted bail earlier this week.

"Let it be crystal clear that these acts of harassment will not deter our clients from doing their duty as journalists," Lim said. "We believe in the rule of law and it is our fervent hope that we will prevail in the end."

The new charges come from a complaint by the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation, which claims Rappler received investment from the U.S.-based Omidyar Network. Rappler denies any violation of the "anti-dummy" laws, arguing that Omidyar was given no power over the Philippine news site's editorial or financial operations.

Ressa's previous arrest

Ressa was detained in February for alleged cyber libel. She has been routinely harassed online for her news outlet's reporting on Duterte's controversial and deadly war on drugs and its use of social media for propaganda since 2016, shortly after Duterte was elected president.

Maria Ressa, critic of Philippines president, arrested for "cyber libel"

Shortly after she was freed on bail in February she appeared at a rally for press freedom and urged her fellow journalists, along with dozens of activists and civil leaders: "Do not be afraid. Speak out against suppression of press freedom."

On Feb. 1, just weeks before her first arrest and as she faced a separate prosecution in her home country over alleged tax violations, Ressa insisted that the charges against her were politically motivated and designed to silence her and her news website.

In that interview Ressa spoke out forcefully about the role U.S.-based social media giants, most notably Facebook, which is hugely popular in the Philippines, had in spreading "tainted" information in a way that she said was distorting the democratic process worldwide.

"We always say information is power, right? Well, what happens when information is tainted and toxic sludge poisons are introduced into the body of democracy?" she asked.

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