Who is Maria Ressa and what is Rappler?
Maria Ressa is one of the most reputed journalists of the Philippines. She spent two decades working as an investigative journalist, correspondent overseas and as bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta for CNN. She then headed the information division of the largest information chain in the Philippines, ABS-CBN.
In 2012, she and three fellow journalists met to form Rappler, an online information platform with a philosophy similar to that of a technology start-up, working with a small team of 12 young people. reporters and developers. It was the first of its kind in the Philippines. Although initially considered a site primarily for young readers, it has become, thanks to the power of social media, the fourth largest news site in the Philippines with more than 100 journalists. Rappler also works as a Facebook data verifier in the Philippines in the fight against misinformation.
Ressa's role at Rappler has won applause around the world. She was one of the journalists named Time Person of the Year 2018, as well as many other prestigious journalism awards.
What did she do to attract President Duterte's attention?
Ressa and Duterte have met for more than thirty years. She interviewed him for the first time in the 1980s while he was Davao's mayor. In 2015, during her election campaign, she conducted an infamous interview with Duterte, in which he confessed to killing three people.
However, it was only after Duterte's election in 2016, when Rappler started shining the spotlight on "the pro-Duterte online troll army" – which spread false information and manipulated the story around the world. his presidency – that the organization has begun to feel pressure. of the administration. Rappler has also begun to report critically on extrajudicial executions, human rights abuses and the growing death toll of Duterte's brutal war on drugs.
How did Duterte react?
The first indicator that Rappler was about to be targeted was during Duterte's State of the Union speech in July 2017, when, to Ressa's surprise, he declared that Rappler was "entirely detained" by the Americans and therefore in violation of the constitution.
Duterte then stated publicly: "Not only is Rappler news wrong, but being Filipino is also wrong."
Completely dismissed the complaint, but in August 2017, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began what Ressa described as a "six-month fishing expedition" requiring hundreds of documents. In January 2017, the SEC had decided to revoke the license of Rappler, but the case had been remanded to the Court of Appeal, where it had been returned to the SEC for lack of merit.
The SEC then began investigating Rappler's tax evasion, alleging that the company had not paid the $ 3 million of tax owing on the company's 2015 bond sales to two foreign parties. While these investigations usually last at least a year, the SEC decided to lay charges in just five months. An arrest warrant against Ressa was issued in November 2018 and she surrendered to the authorities a few days later, where she posted a bond and was released. The case is still going on. Ressa told the Guardian that the charges were "unfounded and clearly politically motivated".
Ressa's not the only rapper reporter targeted. Last year, Rappler's political journalist was also banned from the presidential palace where press briefings are held.
What are the new charges she faces?
Last week, Ressa and Rappler were again sued for alleged computer corruption related to an article published in 2012 about Filipino businessman Wildredo Keng and his relationship with a senior judge. Keng initially filed a lawsuit in 2017, alleging defamation. This complaint had been dropped, but the case was re-filed again last year.
However, as pointed out by Rappler's lawyers, the cyber-defamation law used against Rappler and Ressa was promulgated four months after the publication of the article.
However, on Wednesday, four plainclothes police arrived at the rapper's headquarters in Manila and arrested Ressa, who took her to the National Investigation Bureau. She was held overnight and was released Thursday morning after receiving a deposit of 100,000 Philippine pesos (£ 1,400).
What happens next?
Ressa promised to continue fighting and to continue Rappler's journalism. No date of hearing or deadline has been set for tax evasion and cyber-defamation cases.
As Ressa told the Guardian last year: "I do not consider Duterte as my enemy, but I imagine it was he who fought us."