The journalist who leads a news site that has battled Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte paid a cash bail on Monday on a tax fraud charge she says is an effort to intimidate the publication.
Maria Ressa’s Rappler has been hit by a string of government efforts to shut it down since the site took a critical tone on Duterte, in particular his internationally condemned drug war that has killed thousands.
Ressa surrendered to a Manila court on Monday, posted the equivalent of $1,100 and was ordered to return on Friday for arraignment on charges that Rappler provided false information to tax authorities.
“They [the charges] are politically motivated and . . . they are manufactured,” she told journalists outside court. “Rappler pays the right taxes.”
Campaigners condemned the charge, which is one of several tax fraud cases the government filed against Rappler and Ressa last week while she was out of the country.
The charges are “part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to harass, threaten and intimidate critics,” said Human Rights Watch Philippines researcher Carlos Conde.
“The attacks on Rappler are consistent with the way the Duterte administration has treated other ‘drug war’ critics,” he said.
Duterte bristles at criticism of his signature campaign to rid the nation of drugs, which police say has killed nearly 5,000 alleged dealers and users who resisted arrest.
Some of the crackdown’s highest profile critics have wound up behind bars, including Senator Leila de Lima, who is jailed on drug charges she insists were fabricated to silence her.
The government accuses Rappler Holdings Corp, Ressa and the site’s accountant of failing to pay taxes on 2015 bond sales that it alleges netted gains of 162.5 million pesos ($3.1 million).
The bonds, called Philippine Depositary Receipts, are at the heart of a case that led the Philippines’ corporate watchdog to void the news site’s corporate licence in January.
Duterte has also attacked other media outfits that criticise him, including top newspaper the Philippine Daily Inquirer and major broadcaster ABS-CBN, threatening to also go after their owners over alleged unpaid taxes.
The government said the charges were the consequence of wrongdoing. “You violate tax laws, then you will be prosecuted,” said Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo.