Maria Ressa, a journalist and Chief Executive of Rappler, who runs the news website known for its tough criticisms of President Rodrigo Duterte, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to tax evasion charges.
Ressa has described the charges as a form of “harassment.”
Ressa, a dual US-Filipino citizen, said in a tweet on Wednesday: “pleaded NOT GUILTY.”
A Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018, Ressa faces several government lawsuits that have caused international concern about harassment of journalists in the Philippines.
Ressa, 56, was convicted of libel last month and sentenced to up to six years in prison, a ruling widely seen by government critics as a blow to democratic freedoms under Duterte’s increasingly popular authoritarianism.
Ressa was freed on bail.
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.
Duterte has publicly lashed out at Rappler, calling it a “fake news outlet” sponsored by American spies.
Ressa’s latest court appearance is over accusations Rappler falsified tax returns by omitting the proceeds of a sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors, which later became the securities regulator’s basis to revoke its license.
The securities regulator alleged it was a scheme by Rappler to allow foreigners to illegally own shares in a domestic media firm.
Rappler said foreigners never owned shares, but were allowed to invest without voting rights or involvement in operations.
Rappler is still operating pending its appeal against its license being revoked.
Media watchdogs and human rights activists say the charges against Ressa are part of a broader strategy to silence or humiliate opponents of Duterte.
Earlier this month, his allies at the House of Representativs voted overwhelmingly in favor of denying ABS-CBN’s bid to renew its 25-year license.
Duterte earlier repeatedly threatened this would happen because of its alleged refusal to air some of his election campaign commercials./Stacy Ang