Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa and her online news organization were cleared Wednesday of tax evasion charges brought against her by the former Philippine government.
The Philippines’ Court of Tax Appeals ruled that prosecutors failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ressa and her company, Rappler Holdings Corp., had evaded tax payments after raising capital through partnerships with foreign investors.
Outside the courthouse in the Philippine capital of Manila, Ressa was asked what the verdict meant to her. She replied, “Hope. That is what it provides.”
Ressa has noted that the charge of tax evasion was just one of numerous legal cases brought against her by former President Rodrigo Duterte, who ruled from 2016 until June 30, 2022 to try to muzzle her.
Duterte was replaced by Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the son of the former dictator who was ousted in 1986.
Ressa is currently appealing a June 2020 conviction on a cyber libel charge, under which she could face six years in prison. The Philippines’ top court is expected to rule on that case soon. It’s one of several cases against Ressa still pending, and it was not immediately clear on Wednesday whether the verdict in Ressa’s tax case would influence the government’s prosecution of her other cases.
Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021 for fighting to defend their news organizations, defying government efforts to shut them down. They were awarded for “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Rappler was founded in 2012. It was one of several Philippine and international news agencies that reported critically on Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs that left thousands of mostly petty drug suspects dead.
Ressa and Rappler also reported on Duterte’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic which included prolonged police-enforced lockdowns that deepened poverty and caused one of The Philippines’ worst recessions, sparking corruption allegations in government medical purchases.
There was no immediate reaction from the government or from Duterte on the tax evasion ruling.