efe-epaManila

The arrest of renowned Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, who was released on bail on Thursday, on libel charges has led to widespread criticism by the global press and international human rights organizations.

Ressa, who is the chief executive officer of news website Rappler, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with cyber libel for a 2012 article published by the news outlet, which is known to be fiercely critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.

She spent the night in custody before being released on a 100,000 pesos ($1,900) bail bond.

"The message is clear. It's an abuse of power, it's a weaponization of the law. Another line was crossed but if they wanted to scare me, this isn't the way to scare me," Ressa told reporters after being released.

The journalist, who was named TIME magazine's Person of the Year in 2018, said freedom of press was not only important for her or Rappler, but also the basis of all rights enjoyed by Filipinos, including the right to know the truth.

Rappler, a news website launched in 2010, has become one of the most influential media outlets in the country and has had several run-ins with Duterte's government after it became one of the first news sources to highlight alleged human rights abuses in Duterte's war against the illegal drug trade.

Her arrest this week led to an outpouring of criticism in the press, with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines calling the arrest a "shameless act of persecution by a bully government."

Press freedom nonprofit Reporters Without Borders also criticized the arrest.

"The arrest warrant served against @mariaressa, most famous journalist in the Philippines, CEO of @rapplerdotcom, is an obvious violation of press freedom which should be denounced by all the heads of States and governments which can exercise influence on Rodrigo Duterte," RSF Secretary General Christophe Delaire tweeted.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, New York, which bestowed the prestigious Gwen Ifill Press Freedom award on the Rappler CEO last year, urged the Philippine government to withdraw all charges against her.

Carlos Conde, the Philippines representative of nonprofit Human Rights Watch, said that "Ressa's persecution is part of a broader campaign by the Duterte administration to harass and silence critics."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo has denied that Duterte was behind the arrest, and said it had nothing to do with freedom of expression or the press.

The Department of Justice presented cyber libel charges against Rappler, Ressa as its CEO and journalist Reynaldo Santos for a story published in May 2012 on businessman Wilfredo Keng.

Three prosecutors from the justice department ruled last month in favor of Keng, who in Oct. 2017 filed a complaint against Rappler's story, which was based on intelligence reports and linked him to illegal drugs and human trafficking rings.

Keng filed his complaint five years after the story's publication to the Office of Cybercrime at the National Bureau of Investigation, which dismissed the case in Feb. 2018 over lack of grounds and because the one-year deadline to file a libel complaint had expired.

But the justice department reopened the case the following month based on a "continuous publication" argument as the report is still available online.

The cyber libel law under which Ressa has been charged came into force four months after the publication of the story and is not retroactive, according to her lawyer, JJ Risini.

Ressa is facing other legal challenges apart from this case.

Last November, another arrest warrant was issued against her for five offenses of tax evasion, both against Rappler as a company and against her personally.

She avoided prison with five bail payments - Thursday's being the sixth - and the case is awaiting trial, although the she has repeatedly denied the charges, claiming she is being persecuted by the government.

Duterte has been vocal about his animosity toward Rappler, which he has accused of being financed by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.

He has tried to revoke Rappler's license and in Feb. 2018 banned its reporters from covering events at the presidential palace.