Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and Filipino online news site Rappler have been cleared of tax evasion charges.
In its ruling on Wednesday, the Philippines’ Court of Tax Appeals stated that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the press freedom advocate and news site evaded tax payments.
“The acquittal of the accused is based on the findings of the court … that respondents did not commit the crime charged,” the decision read.
According to Ressa, the charges filed during the term of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte were “politically motivated” and displayed a “brazen abuse of power.”
A known critic of Duterte, Ressa’s in-depth journalism drew international attention to the administration’s deadly war on drugs.
The state revenue agency accused Rappler of omitting proceeds from a 2015 sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors from its tax returns. The securities regulator later used the accusation as a basis to revoke the platform’s license.
The 59-year-old journalist said the number of government lawsuits she faced since 2018 indicated a pattern of harassment.
She is also appealing a six-year prison sentence she received in 2020 over a libel conviction.
Human rights groups and press freedom advocates hailed the decision as a victory for the Philippines, which, by recent estimates, still ranks as the seventh most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde took to Twitter to celebrate the verdict, which he called “a victory for press freedom and solidarity.”
Definitely a victory for press freedom and solidarity.
This is also a repudiation of Duterte’s vindictive and cynical politics. Challenge to President Marcos: Take stock of this and ensure that journalists in PH do their jobs without fear. #mariaressa https://t.co/5sZGibVRgI
— Carlos H. Conde 🇵🇭 (@condeHRW) January 18, 2023
According to Conde, the Marcos administration must now “take stock of this and ensure that journalists did their jobs without fear.”
Former Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo also celebrated the verdict in a tweet, saying, “Truth and light prevailed today. To more ahead!”
— Leni Robredo (@lenirobredo) January 18, 2023
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