February 8, 2023

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Maria Ressa of the Philippines acquitted of tax evasion | Freedom of press news

A tax appeals court acquits the Nobel Prize-winning journalist of all four counts of tax evasion, which could have landed her in prison for decades.

Philippine Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and her online news outlet Rappler have been acquitted of tax evasion.

Wednesday’s ruling by an appeals court gave Raisa victory in a case she described as part of a pattern of harassment. If convicted, she would have faced 34 years in prison.

Ressa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021, is the president of Rappler, which has built a reputation for its in-depth reporting and rigorous scrutiny of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Today, the facts win out. The truth wins out. Justice wins out,” an emotional Raisa said after Wednesday’s ruling.

She told reporters, “These charges as you know were politically motivated, they were a flagrant abuse of power and aimed at preventing journalists from doing their jobs.”

These cases are where capital markets, where the rule of law is, and where freedom of the press meet. So this acquittal isn’t just for Rappler. It is for every Filipino who has been wrongfully accused.”

The tax evasion case stems from accusations by the state revenue agency that Rappler omitted from its tax returns the proceeds from the sale of depository receipts in 2015 to foreign investors. This later became the basis for the securities regulator to revoke the news outlet’s license.

Rappler is still in business and is fighting the SEC’s order to shut it down.

Ressa, 59, still faces three more criminal cases, including a cyber defamation conviction, currently on appeal, and could face nearly seven years in prison.

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said in September that he would not get involved in Ressa’s cases, 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 is ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks seventh in the world in its 2021 Impunity Index, which tracks the killings of media professionals whose killers are released.