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Maria Ressa: Rappler founder and CEO cleared by Philippine court for tax evasion



CNN

A Philippine court on Wednesday acquitted the Nobel laureate Maria Ressa of tax evasion, ending a series of court hearings against the veteran Filipino-American journalist that she said were “politically motivated”.

Ressa, CEO and founder of the news site Rapper and former CNN bureau chief, was cleared of four counts of tax offenses filed in 2018 by the government of former President Rodrigo Duterte, a Tax Appeals Court official confirmed to CNN. She pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Speaking to CNN after the verdict, Ressa said, “It feels like the world is slowly turning to place.”

“I was hoping for an acquittal and was happy to get it… That said, I think our victory is not just Rappler’s. This is for every person who has been wrongfully accused of politically motivated charges,” she said.

The tax evasion case stemmed from accusations by the state revenue agency that Rappler omitted from his tax returns the proceeds of a 2015 sale of certificates of deposit to foreign investors, which is later became the securities regulator’s basis for revoking his license.

The Philippine Department of Justice said it respected the court’s decision.

Ressa, 59, is currently under bail as she appeals a six-year prison sentence handed down in 2020 for a conviction for cyber defamation.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize 2021as well as the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, for his efforts in favor of freedom of expression in the Philippines.

Ressa founded Rappler in 2012 and he became known for his unwavering coverage of Duterte and his brutal “War on Drugs”. She has been engulfed in legal battles in recent years and has previously claimed she was targeted because of her news site’s articles critical of Duterte.

And his legal battles aren’t over.

She still faces a pending tax case against her and has also appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines seeking to overturn her 2020 defamation conviction.

Meanwhile, Rappler is still fighting a Government Ordinance 2018 shut down after the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission in June last year upheld its earlier decision to revoke the news site’s operating license.

Hold The Line, an advocacy group formed to support Ressa, welcomed the verdict on Wednesday and called for all pending cases against her to be closed.

“Rappler and Ressa have maintained their innocence and will continue to defend press freedom in the Philippines as they fight an ongoing deluge of cases aimed at silencing their reporting,” the group said in a statement.

“We hope to see the beginning of the end of the previous administration’s strategy of instrumentalizing the courts as a way to undermine independent news organizations and damage the credibility of journalists.”

The Philippines Ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh around the world in its Impunity Index 2022, which tracks the deaths of members of the media whose killers go free.

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