Journalist in Philippines turns herself in on tax fraud charges, accuses government of intimidation

Filipina journalist Maria Ressa turned herself in to a Manila court Monday after the government issued a warrant for her arrest on charges of tax fraud.

Ressa, the editor of online news website Rappler, said the charges are an effort by the government to “harass and intimidate” her and the news organization, according to The Guardian.

Ressa and the Rappler have been frequent critics of Philippine’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, and his administration.

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The government last month charged Ressa and her publication with five counts of tax fraud. The charges carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison.

Ressa turned herself in Monday and posted bail. Her next court date is scheduled for Friday.

After leaving the courthouse, Ressa said “we need to hold government to account, and part of the reason I’m here is precisely that,” she said. “I’m not a criminal, but I’ve been fingerprinted like a criminal. We feel that we did not get due process.”

Ressa said she planned to challenge the charges against her.

Ressa and her publication have drawn attention to Duterte’s use of extrajudicial killing by the police in an attempt to crack down on drug users in the Philippines.

Philippine presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the charges against Ressa were not politically motivated or brought forward by Duterte.
 
"It's a question of tax evasion. You violate tax laws and then you'll be prosecuted," he told reporters, according to Rappler. "We have repeatedly said that we've never and will never interfere with the function of the judiciary. If the judiciary finds probable cause, then we'll have to respect the law on the matter. Ms. Ressa is entitled to legal remedies under the law."

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines put out a statement defending Ressa and blasting the government for the arrest.

“Arresting Maria will send a clear signal that the country’s democracy is fast receding under a feckless administration that cannot abide criticism and free expression and will go to ridiculous lengths to muzzle all those it does not agree with,” the statement reads.