Maria Ressa, Duterte’s most-vocal critic, arrested again

President Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Maria Ressa is using the freedom of the press as an excuse to attack the administration. (Reuters)
Updated 30 March 2019

Maria Ressa, Duterte’s most-vocal critic, arrested again

  • Her arrest, along with warrants issued to other Rappler execs, she said, is a bad signal to send to the rest of the world

MANILA: “This is not the Philippines I knew,” said Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of news website Rappler, after being released on bail hours after her arrest on Friday.

Ressa, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested on arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport over an anti-dummy case filed on Thursday at the Pasig Regional Trial Court against her and several other Rappler executives. 

It is the second time Ressa has been arrested in just over one month. 

In February, Ressa spent one night in detention at the National Bureau of Investigation for a cyber libel case.

Speaking to reporters shortly after her release, having posted $1,700 bail, Ressa said: “I think one of the things we need to step up and admit is that the press in this country is under attack.”

Ressa, who was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018, added that it was the seventh time she had posted bail and the second time she has been arrested.

“It’s obviously clear I am not a travel risk. I came home even after the new charges were laid out and the arrest warrant was issued,” she said, adding: “It’s a sad day for me.”

Her arrest, along with warrants issued to other Rappler execs, she said, is a bad signal to send to the rest of the world.

“The fact that the government continues to try to label us as criminals is itself criminal,” she declared. 

“Every action takes us further into a descent to tyranny. This is the weaponization of the law.”

The current charge against Ressa for violation of the country’s anti-dummy law —  designed to ensure that the Philippines’ foreign-equity limitations are enforced —  and the Securities Regulation Code is the seventh court case brought against Ressa, and the 11th against Rappler overall.

“All of these cases have been in the last year and a few months, and except for the cyber libel, (they) all stemmed from one event, which is Omidyar Network’s investment in the Philippines Depositary Receipts,” Ressa explained, adding that Rappler would fight each case in court.

In a statement, Rappler said a pattern of harassment against the organization started in January 2018, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an order revoking its license, and has not stopped. The Court of Appeals has since ordered the SEC to reevaluate its decision.

“Now it casts a wider net to go beyond Maria Ressa and target other members of the Rappler Board,” the statement read.

Asked what she thought of her arrest at the airport, Ressa said: “It’s shocking that after a 14-hour flight — and I have committed no crime, I’m certainly not a flight risk — I’m (met) by police who will take me.”

The Philippines, she emphasized, is a democracy under a constitution, and has a bill of rights. 

Ressa said she hopes that the men and women of the judiciary will stand by the spirit of the constitution.

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.