Who is Maria Ressa and what is Rappler?
Maria Ressa is one of the most respected journalists in the Philippines. She worked for two decades as an investigative reporter, foreign correspondent and both as Manila and head of the Jakarta office for CNN. She then headed the news section of the Philippines largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN.
In 2012, she co-founded Rapplay, an online news platform with an ethical ethos, working with a small team of 12 young reporters and developers, along with three journalists. It was the first of its kind in the Philippines, and although initially intended primarily as a website for young readers, it has become the fourth largest news site in the Philippines with over 100 journalists through the power of social media. Rappler also works as a fact checker for Facebook in the Philippines in the fight against fake news.
Ressa's role at Rappler has gained recognition around the world. She was one of the journalists named Time Person of the Year 2018 and numerous other prestigious journalist awards.
What has she done to attract President Duterte's attention?
Ressa and Duterte have crossed paths for over thirty years. She first interviewed him in the 1980s when he was mayor of Davao. During the election campaign, in 2015, she led an inglorious interview with Duterte, in which he confessed to killing three people.
It was not until the election of Duterte in 2016, when Rappler put the pro-Duterte online "Troll Army" at the center, spread the fake news and manipulated the tale of his presidency that the organization came under pressure from the administration. Rappler also began to critically report the extrajudicial killings, human rights violations and the rapidly rising death toll from Duterta's brutal war on drugs. He reportedly demonstrated that the ill-treatment with the consent of Duterte was carried out by the police.
How did Duterte react?
The first indication that Rappler was targeted was during Duterte's speech on the state of the Union in July 2017, when, to Ressa's surprise, he stated that Rappler was "in full possession of the Americans" and therefore violated the constitution.
Duterte later publicly stated, "Rappler's news is not just a fake, but Filipino is a fake."
Ressa denies the claim fully, but in August 2017, the Filipino Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began, calling Ressa a "six-month fishing expedition" and demanding hundreds of documents. By January 2017, the SEC had decided to revoke the license from Rappler, but the case was forwarded to the Court of Appeals, where it was remanded to the SEC for lack of a basis.
The SEC then began investigating Rappler for tax evasion, claiming that the company had not paid the $ 3 million tax due on the sale of corporate bonds to two foreign parties in 2015. While such investigations usually take at least a year, the SEC has decided to file the complaint within just five months. An arrest warrant for Ressa was issued in November 2018, and a few days later she turned to the authorities, where she was released on bail and released. The case is still ongoing. Ressa told the Guardian that the allegations were "baseless and politically motivated."
Ressa is not the only Rappler journalist. Last year Rappler's political reporter was also banned from the Presidential Palace, where press conferences are held.
What are the new charges she is facing?
Last week, Ressa and Rappler were again charged with another lawsuit, this time for alleged cyber slander relating to a 2012 story about Filipino businessman Wildredo Keng and his links to a top court judge. Keng originally filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging defamation was dropped, but she was reinstated last year.
However, as the lawyers of Rappler have pointed out, the cyber slander law against Rappler and Ressa was issued four months after the story was published.
However, four plainclothes police officers arrived at Manila's Rappler headquarters Wednesday, arrested Ressa and took her to the National Bureau of Investigation. She was detained overnight and released on Thursday morning after depositing a deposit of 100,000 Philippine pesos (£ 1,400).
What happens next?
Ressa has vowed to keep fighting and continue Rappler's journalism. For the cases of tax evasion and cyber defamation, no court dates or time limits have been established.
As Ressa said to the Guardian last year, "I do not really see Duterte as my enemy, but I think he brought the battle to us."