Rappler has covered the brutal drug war of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose approval of extrajudicial killings has alarmed human-rights advocates. Ressa has said previously that criminal charges against her and Rappler are efforts at intimidation.
“There’s no precedence for what the government is doing,” Ressa told TIME last year. “There’s no precedence for the type of leadership that we’ve had, and the attacks against journalists.”
“We’re on the right track,” she said. “We haven’t been intimidated, and we won’t be intimidated.”
The new charges pertain to a 2012 story about businessman Wilfredo Keng and his alleged links to illegal drugs and human trafficking, as well as his ties to the country’s then-chief justice during his impeachment trial. The National Bureau of Investigation dismissed Keng’s complaint about the story in 2018, but Department of Justice prosecutors later ruled in his favor, Rappler reported.
“Ridiculous is tame to describe this latest weaponization of the law,” Ressa tweeted earlier this week. “The story was published 4 months before the law we allegedly violated was enacted.”
Good morning from Manila! Well, again another great welcome home: https://t.co/emom5BclBO Ridiculous is tame to describe this latest weaponization of the law: the story was published 4 months before the law we allegedly violated was enacted ++ many more that form the new norm.
— Maria Ressa (@mariaressa) February 5, 2019
The story in question was published by Rappler in May 2012. The controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act law — which made online libel a crime punishable by up to 12 years in jail — was enacted months later in September 2012, prompting protests amid fears it would lead to censorship.
“In this instance, the anti-cybercrime law has clearly been weaponized against legitimate dissent and free speech,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Wednesday, calling the charges against Rappler an “absurd legal attack” that came as “no surprise.”
Reporters Without Borders also condemned the latest charges as “absurd” in a statement posted on its website.
“The government shows no sign of ending its chilling campaign of repression, obstruction and intimidation. Authorities should end this harassment and let Maria Ressa and all Filipino journalists do their jobs as truth-tellers.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has also raised concerns about “a direct assault on press freedom in the Philippines.” Rappler has been banned from covering presidential events, and Duterte has dismissed the site as “fake news.”
Ressa appeared on one of the covers of TIME’s 2018 Person of the Year issue in December. Ressa, along with three other journalists and one news organization, were named Person of the Year “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse.”
Ressa and Rappler were also charged with tax evasion in November. She is currently out on bail on those charges, but she faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
“It’s absolutely clear that this is not a problem of law,” Ressa told TIME last year. “These cases are being used to harass us, to prevent us from doing the stories we do.”
During a press conference on Monday a spokesperson for Duterte denied that the tax evasion charges against Rappler were politically motivated, CNN reported.
Ressa has been outspoken about how disinformation on social media and authoritarian governments are negatively affecting journalism in the Philippines and elsewhere around the world.
“I’ve been a war zone correspondent, I’ve planned coverage when one side is shooting against the other side,” Ressa told TIME. “That is easy compared to what we’re dealing with now.”