An outspoken journalist and critic of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte was in court on Thursday to deny dodging taxes as authorities continue a crackdown against the country’s independent media.
Maria Ressa, chief executive of news website Rappler, testified in court in a case widely seen as retribution for her criticism of Duterte’s administration.
Her site was three years ago branded a “fake news outlet” by Duterte and she has since been the subject of at least 11 investigations into her business.
Ressa has said the cases are payback for her criticism of the president’s policies including his war on drugs that has killed thousands of people.
“It hurts to tell the truth nowadays. There are costs to telling the truth,” she told reporters after spending over two hours on the witness stand.
Last year top broadcast network ABS-CBN was forced off the air when Congress refused to renew its licence after Duterte vowed to personally shut it down for allegedly failing to air his 2016 presidential election campaign ads.
Ressa’s testimony on Thursday was off limits to the press due to coronavirus protocols.
She and her firm Rappler Holdings are accused of tax evasion and filing inaccurate tax returns on the sale of securities to US-based funds in 2015.
The 57-year-old, a former CNN correspondent and 2018 Time magazine Person of the Year, said she and Rappler paid the appropriate taxes for the deals.
Ressa said she expected the court to hand down a ruling in two months and added that she could go to jail if found guilty.
Last year she was convicted of cyber libel by a Manila court but is currently free on bail pending an appeal in a case that could see her handed six years in jail.
Duterte has faced international calls to drop all charges against the veteran reporter, with rights groups saying they amount to state harassment. But the pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Ressa faces another court date in a week on a third charge of cyber libel, this time for a story published about students allegedly paying a professor for grades.