Global Condemnation After Journalist Who Blamed Trump for Duterte's Attacks on Free Press Arrested in Philippines

Just a few months after directly blaming U.S. President Donald Trump for fueling crackdowns on the press in her country, award-winning Filipina journalist Maria Ressa—a long-time critic of the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte—was arrested Wednesday for what reporters and media advocates around the world denounced as “trumped-up and politically-motivated” libel charges designed to intimidate and silence Ressa and her colleagues.

In November, while accepting an award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ressa said: “Our problems are partly caused by yours: American social media technology platforms, once empowering, now weaponized against journalists, activists, and citizens, spreading lies across borders; and, a president so much like ours whose attacks against the press (and women) give permission to autocrats (like ours) to unleash the dark side of humanity and extend their already vast powers with impunity, especially in countries where institutions have crumbled.”


Ressa is far alone in calling out Trump for emboldening hostility toward journalists. In Reporters Sans Frontières’ (RSF) lastest World Press Freedom Index, U.S. ranking declined due to Trump, and the group warned the “downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level.” Just this week, a BBC cameraman was violently attacked at a Trump rally in Texas after “the crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers.”

In the Philippines, as the Washington Post reports, plainclothes officers arrived at the office of Rappler, of which Ressa is CEO and executive editor, Wednesday evening. She and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were arrested following a complaint from businessman Wilfredo Keng about an article published in May of 2012 that noted Keng’s alleged ties to illegal drugs and human trafficking. The “cyber libel” law they are accused of violating was enacted four months after the story ran.

Ressa’s arrest ignited a flurry of fresh concerns about Trump’s attacks on the news media—from popularizing the phrases “fake news” and “enemy of the people” to laughing when Duterte denounced journalists as spies during a 2017 bilateral meeting—as well as the dangers of the U.S. president’s high praise for Duterte, notorious for his vicious drug war on which Rappler has extensively reported: