Philippine journalist: Tax charges are fake

The CEO of major Philippine news site Rappler has told the BBC charges of tax evasion were “manufactured” because they had been critical of the state.

Maria Ressa denies the “ridiculous charges”, saying they are intended to “intimidate and harass” journalists.

Prosecutors said on Friday they have grounds to indict her and Rappler for breaking tax laws after not declaring gains made in tax returns.

If found guilty, Ms Ressa could be fined and face up to 10 years in jail.

The government accuses Rappler and its executive editor of failing to pay tax on 2015 bond sales which resulted in 162.5 million pesos ($3 million; £2.3 million) in gains.

“I am a journalist doing my job,” she told the BBC on Sunday. “This tax evasion charge is completely from the left field to intimidate us from doing stories that hold them to account.”

Ms Ressa denies Rappler made the alleged gains and said the news site received an award for being a top corporate taxpayer earlier this year.

The English-language outlet’s lawyer said the case “has no legal leg to stand on” because Rappler did not evade any tax obligation.

A justice department official told news agency AFP the charges would be filed in court next week.

What is Rappler?

Founded in 2012 by Ms Ressa, a former CNN journalist, and three other journalists, Rappler has grown a reputation for its hard-hitting, investigative journalism.

The online news site is one of the few Philippine media organisations openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, questioning his public statement’s accuracy and particularly his deadly war of drugs.

The president has labelled the site’s reports as “twisted” and banned its reporter from covering his official activities.

Earlier this year, the site had its licence revoked by the state, igniting a national debate about press freedom.

Rappler is still facing several legal cases, but this is the first criminal charge to be levied against the news site and its co-founder.

“I’m going to run after the government as much as they run after me,” Ms Ressa said from the Paris Peace Forum, where she is meeting world leaders on the issue of press freedom.

The veteran Philippine journalist, who is abroad to receive international journalism and press freedom awards, said she would not shy away from the charges.

“What’s the best defence? It’s to shine the light on these shady ways of circumventing and bending the law to intimidate and harass.”

The Philippines has had one of the strongest records of press freedom in Asia, but observers say this has changed under Mr Duterte’s presidency.

In 2016, Mr Duterte was criticised for saying some of the many journalists killed in the country deserved to die.

Since 1986, 176 journalists have been killed in the country, making it one of the most dangerous in the world for reporters.

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