Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrested in Philippines on libel charges

By Steve Frank and Tucker Reals

/ CBS News

Rappler CEO on Facebook disinformation

Indonesian police have arrested a prominent journalist who told CBS News earlier this month that she feared she was being persecuted for political reasons. Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of the Philippines based news website Rappler, was taken into custody on Wednesday, according to her own website.

She was detained on charges of cyber libel, Rappler said, relating to a story published about a Filipino businessman in 2012 — four months before the country's Cybercrime Prevention Act was even enacted.

The Philippine Department of Justice first suggested bringing the charges against Ressa, Rappler and one of the website's researchers at the beginning of February, after what Rappler described as a "flip-flop" by the country's cybercrime investigation agency on whether there was any evidence to suggest malicious action.

Ressa told CBS News on Feb. 1, as she faced a separate prosecution in her home country over alleged tax violations. She insisted that the charges were politically motivated and designed to silence her and her news website, which has reported critically on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's violent crackdown on crime and authoritarian tendencies.

Ressa spoke out forcefully about the role U.S.-based social media giants, most notably Facebook, which is hugely popular in the Philippines, had in spreading "tainted" information to in a way that she said was distorting the democratic process worldwide.

"We always say information is power, right? Well, what happens when information is tainted and toxic sludge poisons are introduced into the body of democracy?" she asked.

Ressa said attacks against her and Rappler began appearing on Facebook in the summer of 2016. After a three-part series Rappler published in October of that year, on social media propaganda, she said she was pummeled by an average of 90 hate messages per hour.

"At the beginning, for about two weeks, I was trying to respond. And then I realized they're not looking for an answer, they want to pound me into silence," Ressa told CBSN's Reena Ninan. "That was when I realized this is something new. It's a new weapon against journalists."

Ressa's arrest comes only about two months after she was recognized in Time Magazine's 2018 "Person of the Year" edition. Time honored a group of journalists, others of whom had already been killed or imprisoned, as "Guardians" in a modern "war on truth." The magazine said it wanted to emphasize the importance of reporters' work in an increasingly hostile world.

Rappler staffers posted video on the website's Facebook page on Wednesday which showed plain-clothes police officers speaking to employees. Ressa was detained at the office, but left of her own free will with the officers.

First published on February 13, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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