Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion by Philippine court – CNN

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion by Philippine court – CNN

CNN —

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

Ressa, CEO and founder of news site Rappler and former head of CNN’s bureau, has been acquitted by former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration of four counts of tax violations filed in 2018, a Court of Tax Appeals 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 starting to turn upside down.”

“I was hoping for an acquittal and was thrilled to get it… Still, I think our win isn’t just Rappler’s. It is for every single person who has been wrongly charged with politically motivated charges,” she said.

The tax evasion case arose from allegations by the State Revenue Commissioner that Rappler had omitted from his tax returns the proceeds from a 2015 sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors, which later became the basis for the Securities Commission to revoke her license.

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

Ressa, 59, is currently on bail as she appeals a six-year sentence imposed in 2020 for a cyber defamation conviction.

She shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to uphold freedom of expression in the Philippines.

Ressa founded Rappler in 2012 and gained notoriety for his unabashed coverage of Duterte and his brutal “war on drugs.” She has been embroiled in legal battles in recent years and previously claimed she was targeted for her news site’s critical reports of Duterte.

And their legal battles aren’t over yet.

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

Meanwhile, Rappler is still fighting a 2018 government order to shut it down after the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission upheld its earlier decision last June to revoke the news site’s operating license.

Hold The Line, an advocacy group set up to support Ressa, welcomed Wednesday’s ruling and called for all pending cases against her to be dropped.

“Rappler and Ressa have maintained their innocence and will continue to lead the defense of press freedom in the Philippines as they battle a spate of pending cases aimed at silencing their reporting,” the group said in a statement.

“We hope to see the beginning of the end of the previous government’s strategy to use the courts to undermine independent news organizations and damage journalists’ credibility.”

The Philippines was ranked 147th out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the Philippines 7th in the world in its 2022 Impunity Index, which tracks the deaths of media members whose killers are released.