efe-epaNew York, USA

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Wednesday condemned the arrest of the chief of news portal Rappler who was arrested earlier on Wednesday in Manila for an alleged "cyber libel" case.

"Freedom of the press is an essential pillar of democracy and Human Rights. The arrest in the Philippines of Maria Ressa, founder and executive editor of the news website Rappler, is an alarming development," CPJ said in a statement to the media, which also called on the government to "immediately release" the journalist and "drop all charges" against her.

CPJ's board chair Kathleen Carroll said that "the arrest of Maria Ressa is an outrage," adding that "she should be freed immediately and the Philippines government needs to cease its multi-pronged attack on Rappler, its talented leader, and its brave staff."

The organization said the letter was launched after its board of directors, made up of influential journalists, approved an exceptional resolution in a meeting held at their New York headquarters.

Ressa was arrested in her office at the Rappler headquarters in Manila, for a story published in May 2012 about local businessman Wilfredo Keng.

The justice department of the Philippines filed charges of "cyber libel" against Rappler, Ressa, as the portal's CEO, and investigative journalist Reynaldo Santos for the story published in 2012.

Three Justice Department prosecutors ruled in Keng's favor last month even though Keng filed his complaint five years after the report was published, even though the statute of limitations established by Philippine law for a defamation charge is only one year.

Rappler's investigative report linked Keng to alleged drug and human trafficking.

Ressa, the director and founder of Rappler, a portal that has been very critical of the administration of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, was named one of its Persons of the Year by Time magazine in 2018.

This is, however, not the only case pending against Ressa.

Last November, an arrest warrant was issued against her on five charges of alleged tax evasion.

Ressa had posted bail at the time and the case is still pending trial.

The Philippine president has made no secret of his hostility towards Rappler, accusing it of being financed by the CIA and banning its reporters from the presidential palace in Feb. 2018.