Maria Ressa, in the sights of Rodrigo Duterte for several months, is being prosecuted for defamation.

By Harold Thibault Posted today at 18h51

Time to Reading 2 min.

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Maria Ressa, editor-in-chief of a news website critical of the Philippine president, was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019.
Maria Ressa, editor-in-chief of a news website critical of the Philippine president, was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019. Bullit Marquez / AP

The officers of the National Bureau of Investigation came to arrest Maria Ressa, Wednesday, February 13, in the offices of the information site she runs, Rappler, the media that, since the arrival of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency in 2016, has most investigated his policy, including the thousands of deaths in his war on drugs.

The journalist, that magazine Time designated among its "Personalities of the year" 2018, did not really look surprised. In December, she already had to pay twice in two different courts to remain free in a case of tax fraud that the power has opportunely opened against Rappler. In June 2018, President Duterte attacked the site after the publication of an article about one of his advisers. Accusing the site to broadcast "fake news", he had launched: "You're not just swinging toilet paper, you're shitting shit at us all. " A few months earlier, he accused Rappler of being financed by the CIA, without any evidence.

This time, it's a charge of defamation against Mme Ressa, for an article published in May 2012 on the president of the Supreme Court of the time, which Rappler claimed he used vehicles whose registration was registered in the name of a businessman, accused of links with the trafficking in human beings and drugs. The Ministry of Justice had recommended his indictment in early February, seven years after the article, and based on a cyber-defamation law passed four months after the revelations. Maria Ressa was then surprised that this law was used retroactively.

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"Silencing journalists"

The journalist should apply for bail on Thursday. "We are not intimidated. The volume of lawsuits, obscure propaganda and lies can not silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold out. These judicial acrobatics show how far the Philippine government can go to silence journalists, especially by having the baseness to spend the night in prison. ", said Mme Ressa.

Filipino human rights defenders see the arrest as a new sign of the deterioration of democracy in their country under Rodrigo Duterte, after the assassination of at least 34 lawyers, the detention of a senator critical and Above all, a campaign against drug users and sellers that has left thousands dead without trial. Rappler was particularly prominent in the monitoring of this bloody policy, which has made more than 20,000 deaths, according to some estimates, and published in the autumn of 2018 a series of five articles detailing how, in the slum of Tondo in north of Manila, the police, to hold its unofficial quotas of executions, subcontracts them to a gang of hitmen.


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