Appellate tax court clears journalist and Nobel laureate of all four charges of tax evasion, which could have sent her to prison for decades.
Philippine Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and her online news outlet Rappler have been acquitted of tax evasion.
The ruling by an appellate court on Wednesday handed Ressa a victory in a case that she has described as part of a pattern of harassment. If convicted, she would have faced 34 years in jail.
Ressa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021, is the head of Rappler, which earned a reputation for its in-depth reporting and tough scrutiny of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Today, facts win. Truth wins. Justice wins,” an emotional Ressa said after Wednesday’s ruling.
“These charges as you know were politically motivated, they were a brazen abuse of power and meant to stop journalists from doing their jobs,” she told reporters. “These cases are where capital markets, where rule of law, where press freedom meets. So this acquittal is not just for Rappler. It is for every Filipino who has ever been unjustly accused.”
The tax evasion case stemmed from accusations by the state revenue agency that Rappler had omitted from its tax returns the proceeds of a 2015 sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors, which later became the securities regulator’s basis to revoke its license.
The news organization remains operational and is fighting the Securities and Exchange Commission order to close it.
Ressa, 59, still faces three other criminal cases, including a cyber libel conviction, currently on appeal, for which she could face nearly seven years in prison.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said in September he would not interfere in Ressa’s cases, citing the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government.
The Philippines is one of Asia’s most dangerous places for journalists.
It ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks it seventh in the world in its 2021 impunity index, which tracks deaths of media members whose killers go free.