By comparison, the family of dictator and former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, notorious for corruption and human rights violations, never paid that much in bail while fighting the many charges against them.
Ressa, chief executive of the news site Rappler, shared Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year award with several other journalists, including slain Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
She was arrested at the Manila airport on her way home from a trip abroad, with police waiting for her at the baggage claim. She was escorted to police headquarters and then to a regional trial court. Ressa posted a photo on Twitter of her view from inside the van, showing a police officer in a bulletproof vest.
“The fact that the government continues to try to label us as criminals is itself criminal,” Ressa told reporters after her release about noon. “Every action takes us further on a descent to tyranny. This is the weaponization of the law.”
“This latest episode is not surprising, and we prepared ourselves for it,” said Francis Lim, Ressa’s legal counsel. “But let it be crystal clear that these acts of harassment will not deter our clients from doing their duty as journalists.”
This time, the charges are for the alleged violation of the Anti-Dummy Law. Rappler is accused of breaking laws that restrict foreign ownership of businesses. The government argues that a 2015 investment from the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm owned by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, qualifies as foreign control. Ressa has maintained that the company is still owned and run by Filipinos.
Rappler Managing Editor Glenda Gloria and five other Rappler 2016 board members — Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo, James Velasquez and Felicia Atienza — face the same charges. They collectively paid more than U.S. $28,800 in bail on Wednesday, ahead of the arrest, while Ressa was abroad.
Her company now faces 11 complaints. Last month, Ressa was unexpectedly arrested on cyber libel charges and spent the night in detention. She and the company also face allegations of tax evasion. Their license to operate was revoked last year, and reporter Pia Ranada has been barred from covering the president’s events.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Rappler has become the Duterte administration’s “whipping boy” in its efforts to silence what was once considered the freest press in Asia.
The Duterte administration has claimed it is not meddling in the justice system or responsible for the charges.
“She is complaining again that she is being arrested. All are equal before the law. She wants to be treated differently,” said Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo in a news briefing Friday. “She cannot be complaining that this is a violation of press freedom.”
Human Rights Watch said that the actions against Ressa and company were “unprecedented and speaks volumes of the Duterte administration’s determination to shut the website down.”
“The administration has shown a relentlessness in its persecution of government critics unseen since the time of the Marcos dictatorship,” Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement. “The charges against Rappler, Maria Ressa and her colleagues should be dropped.”
Human rights and press freedom advocates have thrown their support behind Rappler and Ressa. But the journalist and her organization have also been the target of rampant and vulgar criticism online, widely believed to be the work of paid “trolls.” Rappler has monitored and reported extensively on networks spreading disinformation, particularly on Facebook, which counts the Philippines as one of its biggest markets.
Facebook announced on Friday that it took down about 200 pages, groups and fake accounts that were linked to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in the Philippines. Facebook found the pages were organized by Nic Gabunada, a former Duterte campaign manager. The social media giant took down another network of false accounts earlier this year.
Rappler is one of Facebook’s three fact-checking partners in the country. Ressa says she is “cautiously optimistic” that good can prevail on the platform — but that also entails working with it.
“Rappler knows the best and the worst of what Facebook can do,” she wrote in a blog post in January. “I know its immense potential for good. That is why we continue to work with Facebook, . . . defining facts and looking at networks that spread lies. I don’t think we have a choice.”
Her arraignment and pretrial conference is set on April 10.
“This is not the Philippines I knew,” Ressa said after posting bail. “This is not the Philippines I voluntarily chose as my home country.”
Shibani Mahtani in Hong Kong contributed to this report.