US State Department ‘concerned’ over arrest of Rappler’s Maria Ressa

Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa is taken into custody at Manila airport yesterday.

The US has urged the Philippines to quickly resolve a case against arrested journalist Maria Ressa and allow her news site Rappler to “operate freely”.

A State Department spokesman said the US was “concerned” about the arrest and urged the Philippines to respect freedom of the press.

“The freedom of expression is a cornerstone of any truly democratic society and a fundamental freedom recognised by both the United States and the Philippines,” the spokesman said today (Saturday, March 30).

“Maria Ressa is a highly respected and experienced journalist. We hope these charges will be resolved quickly, in a way that fully respects the freedom of expression, allows Ms Ressa and Rappler to continue to operate freely, and is consistent with the Philippines’ tradition of a free and independent press.”

As we reported, the journalist was arrested last month on libel charges before being freed on bail. Her arrest yesterday was on charges that she and her colleagues had violated rules on foreign ownership of media. By law, all mass media must be 100 per cent Filipino owned.

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Maria Ressa arrested at airport

Ms Ressa was arrested minutes after she had disembarked from plane at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport at about 7am yesterday. She was released from custody just hours later when she posted a 90,000-peso bail at a court in Pasig City.

“The arraignment of the accused and pre-trial conference are hereby set on April 10, 2019, at 8.30 o’clock in the morning,” Judge Maria Cheryl Laqui-Ceguera wrote in the court’s release order.

In his Friday press briefing, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo Panelo emphasised that the arrest followed due process.

“All warrants of arrest issued by competent courts are to be served the way it was served to her this morning. And warrants of arrests are not issued unless the courts’ judges determine there is a probable cause, which means due process has been observed,” he said.

“Probable cause was determined by the Office of the Prosecutor or the Department of Justice. And then an information has been filed and prior to an issuance of a warrant of arrest another determination by the judge handling the case will be made. And there is such a determination of probable cause. So due process has been observed.” 

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