Maria Ressa gestures after being cleared of tax evasion charges in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on January 18, 2023, by the Tax Appeals Court. Photographer: JAM STA ROSA/AFP/Getty Images
A Philippine court cleared journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation, which owns the news site she co-founded in 2012, of tax evasion charges on Wednesday. The ruling is Ressa’s latest win in her fight against what press freedom supporters have labeled court harassment.
The four tax evasion accusations were filed by the administration of then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018, according to Rappler. Ressa’s acquittal on tax evasion counts was verified to TIME by an officer at the Registry of the Court of Tax Appeals, First Division.
Ressa, who has been President and CEO of Rappler from its creation and just published a book titled How to Defy a Dictator, alleges she was unfairly targeted following Rappler’s coverage of Duterte’s murderous drug war. Rappler also conducts investigative coverage of internet deception and is one of Meta’s national third-party fact-checking partners.
Continue reading: Thousands were slain in the Philippines’ drug battle. The administration is now accusing corrupt police officers.
“Today, facts prevail, truth triumphs, and justice wins,” an emotional Ressa said outside the Manila court.
Ressa, 59, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners for their journalistic work in “increasingly severe conditions”. TIME named her one of the “protectors” of press freedom as “Person of the Year” in 2018.
Continue reading: “A battle for facts.” Maria Ressa’s understanding of why she was picked for the Nobel Peace Prize
Duterte, a populist and hugely popular president, had publicly chastised Rappler for its critical coverage of his “war on drugs.” He claimed it breached international intellectual property regulations, which the corporation rejects. Rappler was forced to close in 2018 when the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission revoked its operating license, but the news site continued operations as normal.
Following the SEC case, a succession of lawsuits were filed. Ressa was convicted of slander and sentenced to nearly seven years in jail in 2020 by a court. She is being held on bail awaiting her appeal.
According to Rappler, her acquittal in tax court on Wednesday left just three outstanding litigation, including the defamation appeal, the SEC case, and a separate tax case.
The Hold the Line Coalition, an international press freedom advocacy group, said in a statement on Wednesday, “We hope to see the beginning of the end of the previous government’s strategy of using the courts as a vehicle to protect independent news organizations.” undermine and damage journalists’ credibility. As a following step, we demand that all outstanding cases against Rappler and Ressa be withdrawn, and that their continued persecution cease once and for all.” The organization urged on the existing administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to “reset the vast media suppression effort of its predecessors.” .
According to Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, the Philippines, a Southeast Asian country of 110 million people, ranks 147th out of 180 countries, with at least 34 journalists slain between 2012 and 2021. A senior journalist reporting severe corruption was shot dead on his way home on October 3, 2022.