Officials in the Philippines released pioneering journalist Maria Ressa from jail Thursday, after her arrest Wednesday on questionable charges of cyber-libel — the latest in escalating steps taken by the country’s government to attempt to silence her and her news website, Rappler.
Long a target of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, she has earned praise and support from journalists around the world, as well as from humanitarian and press freedom advocacy organizations.
Under Ressa’s leadership as executive editor, Rappler has reported on Duterte’s war on drugs, exposing his spate of extrajudicial killings and propaganda campaigns against his critics.
In 2018, Time magazine named her one of its people of the year, commemorating journalists killed or physically threatened while doing their jobs.
Ressa was also honored last year by the Committee to Protect Journalists, receiving its Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
“The Philippine government’s legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture,” said Shawn Crispin, the CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.
The staff of Rappler, which reported on Ressa’s arrest and livestreamed officials serving her the arrest warrant, resolved to continue the site’s work.
“If this is another of several attempts to intimidate us, it will not succeed, as past attempts have shown,” Rappler said in a statement Thursday. “Maria Ressa and Rappler will continue to do our jobs as journalists. We will continue to tell the truth and report what we see and hear. We are first and foremost journalists, we are truthtellers.”
Demonstrators across the Philippines held rallies for press freedom and protested Ressa’s arrest, Rappler reported Thursday.
Before founding Rappler in 2012, she served as the Manila bureau chief for CNN and covered terrorism in Southeast Asia for two decades.
“When I look back a decade from now, I want to make sure that I have done all I can,” Ressa told reporters in Manila on Thursday after posting bail. “We will not duck. We will not hide. We will hold the line.”
Ressa has warned that declining press freedom is a global problem, stemming from the rise of propaganda and disinformation campaigns on social media platforms — and has singled out the United States, where attacks and threats against members of the media have increased under President Donald Trump.
“I think the biggest problem that we face right now is that the beacon of democracy, the one that stood up for both human rights and press freedom — the United States — now is very confused,” she told Time in December. “What are the values of the United States?”
“Our problems in the Philippines are partly caused by your problems here,” she said in November at a CPJ awards dinner in New York. “American social media technology platforms, once empowering, now weaponized against journalists, activists and citizens, spreading lies across borders; and, a president so much like ours whose attacks against the press — and women — give permission to autocrats — like ours — to unleash the dark side of humanity and extend their already vast powers with impunity, especially in countries where institutions have crumbled.”