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Press FreedomGlobal issues

Reporter Ressa pleads not guilty in Philippines tax case

July 22, 2020

The veteran journalist and staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte pleaded not guilty to tax evasion. Maria Ressa said the charges against her were "politically motivated" and meant to "harass and intimidate."

Maria Ressa
Image: Getty Images/AFP/N. Celis

Filipina journalist Maria Ressa pleaded not guilty to charges of tax evasion at a Manila court on Wednesday.

The case is one of several government lawsuits that she and her online government-critical news site Rappler are facing, causing rising concern over the harassment of journalists in the Philippines.

Ressa's court appearance was over accusations Rappler falsified tax returns by leaving out the proceeds of a sale to foreign investors in 2015.

"These charges are politically motivated, it is meant to harass and intimidate, it is meant to be a war of attrition to try to make us afraid to keep reporting," Ressa told the press after entering her not guilty plea.

"The best response to it is to keep reporting," she added.

Referring to her defense, she said: "We have to hold the line every step of the way."

Maria Ressa on libel conviction

Rappler facing multiple court cases

Online news site Rappler has repeatedly challenged the accuracy of Duterte's public statements and his justification for his controversial foreign policy.

It has also reported on alleged atrocities in his war on drugs and probed what it says are massive, state-orchestrated social media hate campaigns against Duterte's critics.

In June, a Manila court found Ressa and a former Rappler reporter guilty of libeling a wealthy businessman. Ressa was sentenced to up to six years in prison, but her lawyer said the prison terms and other penalties imposed could not be enforced unless all appeals were rejected.

In April 2019, Ressa pleaded not guilty to four other tax violation charges before the country's Court of Tax Appeals.

Rappler is facing a total of eight court cases, the news site tweeted.

Assault on press freedoms

Ressa, who was named one of Time magazine's People of the Year in 2018, told DW following the June libel case that "part of the reason" Rappler had come into conflict with the government was because of its coverage of the war on drugs.

The country must do all it can to protect press freedom, she added.

Duterte and other officials have dismissed claims that criminal complaints are a press freedom issue. They are part of judicial procedures arising from their alleged violations of the law, maintain the government.

Ressa faces a fine of no less than 10,000 pesos ($202, €175) and imprisonment of between 1 and 10 years if found guilty of the tax evasion latest charges.

kmm/sms (AFP, AP, Retuers, dpa)