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Politics

World press groups decry charges against Duterte critic Maria Ressa

Rappler chief posts bail and vows to 'continue holding government accountable'

Maria Ressa, a prominent government critic, shows a copy of her arrest warrant after posting bail at the Pasig Regional Trial Court in Manila on Dec. 3.   © Getty Images

MANILA -- International press groups have urged the Philippine authorities to drop tax evasion charges against Maria Ressa, the editor-in-chief of news site Rappler and a prominent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

A regional trial court in Manila ordered Ressa's arrest last week for allegedly failing to pay income and sales taxes from the sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts in 2015. PDRs are financial instruments that overseas investors can buy into, allowing companies with foreign ownership restrictions to raise funds internationally.

Ressa turned herself in on Monday after returning from an overseas trip and paid bail of 60,000 pesos ($1,143). If found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in prison and considerable financial penalties.

The court order has drawn widespread criticism from international press groups.

"These fabricated charges are nothing more than a politicized attempt to silence independent journalism and remove accountability from those perpetuating violence and intimidation against their own people," said Vincent Peyregne, CEO of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

The World Editors Forum has also said the charges against Ressa and her organization should be dropped, while the Society of Publishers in Asia said it is "deeply concerned" about the situation.

SOPA called on the Philippine government to respect due process, uphold press freedom and ensure the safety of journalists in the country.

The justice department charged Ressa and Rappler with five counts of tax fraud in November. Ressa, who is also CEO of the company, has denied the charges, saying she has even overpaid her personal taxes.

"I'm not a criminal. I will continue to hold the government accountable," she said on Sunday.

Rappler has often criticized Duterte's war on drugs. The president has labeled Rappler a "fake news outlet" and accused Ressa of being a covert CIA agent, a claim she denies.

In January, the Philippines' securities regulator revoked Rappler's corporate registration for allegedly breaching laws prohibiting foreign ownership of media organizations. Rappler has appealed the order.

The month after, the presidential communications team canceled Rappler's accreditation for covering Duterte, citing the regulator's order.

Ressa co-founded Rappler in 2012 with fellow veteran journalists, with a view to creating a news organization "that would go beyond journalism and close the loop on crowdsourcing experiments." 

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