The tax appeals court clears the journalist and Nobel laureate of four counts of tax evasion, which could have sent her to jail for decades.
Filipino Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and her online media outlet Rappler have been acquitted of tax evasion.
An appeals court’s decision on Wednesday gave Ressa a victory in a case she described as part of a pattern of harassment. If convicted, she would have been sentenced to 34 years in prison.
Ressa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021, heads Rappler, which has earned a reputation for its in-depth reporting and scrutiny of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. .
“Today, the facts prevail. Truth wins. Justice prevails,” an emotional Ressa said after Wednesday’s ruling.
“These charges, as you know, were politically motivated, they were a shameless abuse of power and were aimed at preventing journalists from doing their job,” she told reporters.
“These cases are where capital markets, where the rule of law, where freedom of the press meet. This acquittal therefore does not only concern Rappler. This is for every Filipino who has ever been wrongfully accused.
The tax evasion case stemmed from accusations by the state revenue agency that Rappler omitted from his tax returns proceeds from a 2015 sale of certificates of deposit to foreign investors. This later became the securities regulator’s basis for revoking the media’s license.
Rappler remains operational and is fighting the Securities and Exchange Commission’s order to shut it down.
Ressa, 59, still faces three other criminal cases, including a cyber defamation conviction, currently on appeal, for which she faces nearly seven years in prison.
Amnesty International welcomed Wednesday’s decision and urged the authorities to drop the remaining cases. The rights group said Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should also review the laws under which she was charged under his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
“The cyberdefamation provision of the Cybercrime Prevention Act continues to be abused and misused by authorities to intimidate journalists and harass human rights defenders who speak truth to power,” said Butch Olano, director of the Philippines section of Amnesty International, in a press release. “This practice threatens the right to freedom of speech and of the press, and further reinforces impunity within the government.”
Marcos Jr said in September he would not interfere in Ressa’s affairs, citing the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government.
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in Asia for journalists. It ranked 147th out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks it seventh in the world in its 2021 Impunity Index, which tracks the deaths of members of the media whose killers are freed.