Asia-Pacific

'Death by a thousand cuts of our democracy': Duterte critic Ressa speaks after bail release

0:00

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa has been freed on bail, following an arrest that sparked international censure and allegations she is being targeted over her news site's criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The award-winning head of a Philippine online news site that has aggressively covered President Rodrigo Duterte's administration accused the government of abusing its power and of using the law as a weapon to muzzle dissent.

"What we're seeing is death by a thousand cuts of our democracy," Ressa told the Associated Press in an interview on Thursday, after posting bail in the Manila regional trial court that issued a warrant for her arrest.

National Bureau of Investigation agents served the warrant against Maria Ressa late Wednesday afternoon and escorted her from the Rappler Inc. office to NBI headquarters, where she stayed overnight.

The move against Ressa, who was one of Time magazine's Persons of the Year last year, was denounced by her outfit, Rappler Inc., and media watchdogs as a threat to press freedom.

Duterte's government said the arrest was a normal step in response to a criminal complaint.

Duterte has openly lambasted journalists who write unfavourable stories about him, including about his anti-drug campaign that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.

Rappler's 2012 article included allegations that a businessman was linked to illegal drugs, human trafficking and a murder case, citing an unspecified intelligence report.

The story also said a car registered in his name had been used by the country's chief justice, who was later ousted in an impeachment trial.

Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of online news site Rappler
Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of online news site Rappler
EPA

Rappler is one of several local and international news agencies deemed critical of Duterte's policies.

"I will hold the government to account for its actions and if they're not used to being held to account, we will do our best to do that," Ressa said.

"The subtle message that the government is trying to put down which is you know 'y'all better be careful. Stay silent. Otherwise you're going to be next.' That message needs to be responded to with far harder questions and reporting that will hold the powerful to account," she added.

Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after a government watchdog found that the news site violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it received money from an international investment firm.

Rappler, founded in 2012, rejected the ruling.

In its selection of Ressa as a Person of the Year, Time magazine cited her and several other journalists as "guardians" in what it said was an effort to emphasise the importance of reporters' work in an increasingly hostile world.

Ressa, who has worked with CNN, also last year received a Press Freedom award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Center for Journalists' Knight International Journalism Award.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch