Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in October at his country’s Istanbul consulate, was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” on Tuesday, an honor he shared with other targeted journalists recognized as “guardians” of the truth.
Among those named with Khashoggi were Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo—currently imprisoned in Myanmar—and the workforce of the Capital Gazette in the US city of Annapolis, including five staff members killed in a June shooting.
“As we looked at the choices it became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said.
“So we chose to highlight four individuals and one group who have taken great risks in pursuit of greater truth, starting with Jamal Khashoggi.”
Reacting to the Time award on Ressa—founder of the news website Rappler—President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday that charges against government critics were legitimate and free expression remained “robust.”
He added that the Palace respected Time magazine’s choice and that Ressa’s award showed that free speech remained robust.
Time, which has awarded the “Person of the Year” title annually since 1927, published four different magazine covers for this week’s edition, each one spotlighting different honorees.
It is the first time someone has been chosen posthumously for the prestigious cover.
Ressa has extensive experience in conflict zones but is now fighting a war to fend off government moves to put her behind bars.
Hours after meeting bail Tuesday on fresh tax fraud charges that the 55-year-old insists are “manufactured,” Ressa was named to the prestigious award.
Rappler has taken a critical stand on Duterte’s deadly anti-drug crackdown and now says it is the target of attacks from authorities.
“It is easier to navigate a conflict zone, a war zone than it is to navigate the legal weaponization of laws in our country. But we will hold the line,” the Princeton graduate said last week.
Ressa and the site have been hit with multiple counts of misleading the government on taxes, and if convicted on one count alone she faces up to a decade behind bars.
It caps a tumultuous year for Ressa, which began with the government moving to revoke Rappler’s license in January.
At the same time, she has received a series of global awards from press freedom advocates, including from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Ressa has been battling what she calls disinformation under Duterte, who won elections in mid-2016 on a promise to rid society of drugs by killing tens of thousands of people.
Rappler has been among a small number of Philippine media outfits producing investigative reports on the killings in Duterte’s anti-crime crackdown and is critical of his leadership.
A journalist for more than 30 years, Ressa is no stranger to threats.
As CNN’s former bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, Ressa specialized in terrorism where she tracked the links between global networks like Al-Qaida and militants in Southeast Asia.
“I’ve been shot at. I almost got thrown out of a country. I’ve been imprisoned for a night,” she said last week.
However, Ressa, who holds both American and Filipino citizenship, returned to the Philippines as news chief of the largest television network ABS-CBN for six years.
In 2012, she launched her own startup, Rappler, in the social media-obsessed Philippines.
However, that website is now fighting for survival as Duterte’s administration has accused it of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership in securing funding, as well as libel and tax evasion.
Ressa, who denies all the charges, has vowed to fight back.
“We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: We did not duck, we did not hide,” she said while accepting an award last month.
“You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it.”
Ressa has been charged with tax evasion but has paid a bail bond in the amount of P204,000 at the Court of Tax Appeals.
The Bureu of Internal Revenue has accused Rappler of failing to pay taxes from the sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts in the second quarter of 2015 amounting to P133.84 million.
Explaining the decision to honor dissident journalist Khashoggi, who was a US resident and Washington Post columnist, Felsenthal said it was “very rare that a person’s influence grows so immensely in death.”
“His murder has prompted a global reassessment of the Saudi crown prince and a really long overdue look at the devastating war in Yemen,” he added.
The CIA has concluded with “medium-to-high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman probably ordered Khashoggi’s October 2 assassination, according to US media reports.
Prince Mohammed is also accused of contributing to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in impoverished Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting a war against Huthi rebels.
Fellow honorees Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, exposed the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya men during a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state last year.
They have been imprisoned for nearly a year and were convicted under a state secrets act in September. A court will hear their appeal later this month. With Vito Barcelo