MANILA — The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) denounced the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, branding it as “a shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
Ressa was arrested by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents around 5 p.m. today on cyber libel charges over a 2012 article published four months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act was enacted.
In a statement signed by its National Directorate, the NUJP maintained that the Department of Justice “perverted the law by charging Maria for an offense allegedly committed before it actually became an offense under the law.”
“This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought,” the NUJP said.
Arts and media alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) said that the charges are politically motivated.
“Nobody believes for a single moment the concocted charges of tax evasion and foreign ownership. The truth is, the onion-skinned tyrant Duterte simply wants to shut down and punish both Maria and Rappler,” LODI said.
In a separate statement, Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the arrest of Ressa “over questionable charges that have been excavated are essentially undisguised attacks on press freedom and speech.”
In its statement, Rappler said, “This is a dangerous precedent that puts anyone – not just the media – who publishes anything online perennially in danger of being charged with libel. It can be an effective tool of harassment and intimidation to silence critical reporting on the part of the media. No one is safe.”
Rappler vowed to continue doing its job. “We will continue to tell the truth and report what we see and hear. We are first and foremost journalists, we are truthtellers, and we will not be intimidated.”
The NUJP called on all colleagues to resist “this blatant assault on our rights and liberties.”
For its part, LODI called on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand with the independent Philippine press in defense of the rights not only of media but of the people. “For in suppressing the press it is the people’s right to know that is trampled on,” LODI said.
Olalia pointed out that the attacks on the Philippine media form part of Duterte’s repression. “Let there be no doubt about it: whether you are a senator, nun, lawyer, activist, human rights defender, or peace advocate, you will be in the crosshairs of government’s whole coercive apparatus if you dissent or criticize so good that they will make you look so bad,” he said.