MANILA - Media watchdogs on Wednesday urged the Philippine government to release and drop charges against Rappler chief Maria Ressa.
Ressa was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation following indictment for cyber libel over the complaint of businessman Wilfredo Keng on a Rappler article published in 2012, which the Department of Justice deemed "defamatory."
Rappler said their efforts to post bail on Wednesday night at the Pasay City night court did not succeed.
In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the government's "legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture."
"We call on Filipino authorities to immediately release Ressa, drop this spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler," CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said.
The CPJ, a media watchdog that monitors threats to reporters across the world, said it had sent a letter to Philippine Prosecutor General Richard Fadullon to stop his department's persecution of Rappler and Ressa in November 2018.
Amnesty International Philippines, meanwhile, denounced the "trumped-up" cyber libel charge against Ressa, which it said was "brazenly politically motivated."
"Authorities should end this harassment, drop the charges, and repeal this repressive law. In a country where justice takes years to obtain, we see the charges against Maria Ressa railroaded, and the law being used to relentlessly intimidate and harass journalists for doing their jobs as truth-tellers," AI Philippine section director Butch Olano said.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) said the Department of Justice "perverted the law" when it indicted Ressa and Rappler for a crime "allegedly committed before it actually became an offense under the law."
"It is clear this is part of the administration's obsession to shut Rappler down and intimidate the rest of the independent Philippine media into toeing the lines," it said.
"We call 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."
In February 2018, the NBI said the cyber libel complaint had "no basis" but later on transmitted it to the DOJ.
The Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines said it will stand by Rappler and other media organizations facing threats, harassment, and intimidation from the government.
"That the Duterte administration chose to selectively apply the law to a media outfit that has been critical of its governance is an indication of the lengths it will go to silence criticism," it said.
"We call on media to fight for their right to freedom of expression and the public to defend their right to know. We have shown during the Marcos dictatorship that only with press freedom can democracy be truly achieved."
ACADEME JOINS FRAY
The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC) meanwhile said Ressa's arrest was "a clear intent to harass and intimidate."
"In true martial law era fashion, the arrest warrant was served after office hours preventing the journalist from immediately filing bail," it said in a statement.
It also called on the public to protect its right to free press whose effectiveness "lies in its ability to seek out and report news/information and hold those in power to account."
The UP-CMC Student Council will lead a protest action on Thursday, 4 p.m. at the CMC Veranda to denounce what it called the "latest attack on press freedom. "
Veteran journalist Vergel Santos said Ressa's arrest over a cyber libel case is meant to "harass, intimidate, repress and silence" dissent.
"They can deny all they like...It is simply too much of a stretch to hold anyone liable under a law that came into effect after the violation had been committed. It's funny. This high handed move on Maria Ressa is very much in keeping with the character of this oppressive regime," he said.
Santos said the filing of libel charges is the favorite weapon against journalists "among people in power, people of wealth and influence."
"We all know that the President is unable to accommodate an adversarial press in his autocratic mansion," he said.
He added: "This is chilling, definitely chilling. Whatever bold reporting that is left around is certain to be softened by all this. The intention is clear. The idea is to intimidate not only to harass, but to intimidate to repress, and eventually to silence..."