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Drop 'politically motivated' criminal charges vs Rappler, Maria Ressa

MANILA, Philipppines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday, December 1, called on the Duterte administration to drop the “politically motivated” charges against Rappler Holdings Corporation and its president Maria Ressa.

The New York-based human rights group made the call days after the Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) filed 4 tax cases before the Court of Tax Appeals, and a fifth case before the Pasig Regional Trial Court against Rappler Holdings and Ressa.

"The Philippine government is targeting Rappler and Maria Ressa for their dogged reporting on Duterte’s murderous ‘drug war.' This attempt to silence a highly regarded news website is just the latest example of the administration’s contempt for free and vibrant news media,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement.

"As Duterte has imposed an increasingly authoritarian rule, he has shown unrelenting hostility to Rappler and other critical Filipino media that are a check on his abuse of power,” he added. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Rappler Holdings and Ressa were also charged with tax evasion before the Court of Appeals on Thursday, November 29, for failure to file tax returns over its Philippine Depositary Receipts or (PDRs).

HRW urged the Philippine media and Filipinos to remain vigilant, and to continue the fight for a free press.

“The Philippines’ allies and friends should denounce these attacks and support efforts to defend press freedom and human rights in the country,” Adams said.

The DOJ filed the cases despite the respondents’ motion for reconsideration filed the previous week with the government agency.

Ressa said these cases are part of the Duterte adminisrtration's desperate efforts to harass and silence independent media such as Rappler. (READ: Journalists, media groups slam attempt to 'silence' Rappler)

Rappler has been subject to harassment and intimidation by the Duterte administration. President Rodrigo Duterte himself had made repeated false allegations against Rappler, including being supposedly funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Rappler reporters and correspondents have also been barred from covering all presidential events in and out of the country.

In its statement, HRW also noted that the attacks against Rappler were “consistent” with administration actions against its critics like opposition Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV.

De Lima was jailed in 2017 for alleged involvement in illegal drugs, while Duterte tried to have Trillanes arrested through a presidential proclamation that sought to revoke the amnesty granted to him under the previous administration. – Rappler.com