Journalist critical of Duterte arraigned on tax charges

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa is recorded on a smartphone as she talks to reporters after posting bail at the Pasig Regional Trial Court, metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Friday March 29, 2019. The head of a Philippine online news site, among media agencies deemed critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested again Friday, this time over an alleged investment violation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines — The head of a Philippine online news site that has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte pleaded not guilty Wednesday to tax violation charges, among the legal issues she says are part of government moves to muzzle critical media.

Rappler Inc. reported that its CEO and executive editor, Maria Ressa, pleaded not guilty to one count of tax evasion and three counts of failure to supply correct tax information before the Court of Tax Appeals.

The tax cases stemmed from funds invested by U.S.-based Omidyar Network to Rappler that the Department of Justice said constituted taxable income the news site did not declare in 2015.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has separately revoked Rappler's license over what it ruled was a breach of a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of media.

The Philippine constitution bans foreign ownership and control of local news media, but Rappler has argued that it did not grant Omidyar the power to control or influence its news operations.

Rappler is one of several local and international news agencies deemed critical of Duterte's policies. Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has openly lambasted journalists who write unfavorable stories about him. He has particularly bristled at critical coverage of his anti-drug campaign, which has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead and drawn international condemnation.

Ressa has been arrested twice in the last two months for a charge related to Rappler's acceptance of Omidyar's investment and a libel complaint filed by a businessman who accused Rappler of linking him to illegal drugs, human trafficking and murder in a report without getting his side or citing evidence.

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