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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa Cleared of Charges in Philippine Tax Case

Ressa, aged 59, is currently on bail and had previously been convicted of cyber libel in 2020

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

PHILIPPINES: A trial court in the Philippines cleared Maria Ressa and her news outlet Rappler of tax fraud on Tuesday, which was another legal victory for the persecuted journalist and for press freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.

Ressa, who won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize alongside a Russian journalist, leads Rappler, a news organisation known for its rigorous investigation into former President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign.

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Following the announcement of the verdict, Ressa stated to reporters that her exoneration sends a “good signal” to the business community, as her tax-related charges “have a lot to do with the rule of law”.

“The acquittal now strengthens our resolve to continue with the justice system and to submit ourselves to the court despite the political harassment and the attack on press freedom,” said Ressa. “It shows that the court system works. We hope to see the remaining charges dismissed,” she further added. Ressa’s recent acquittal was anticipated, following her previous exoneration from tax-related charges nine months ago.

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Those initial charges were linked to a 2018 government indictment alleging that Ressa and Rappler evaded tax payments by not disclosing the proceeds from a 2015 sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors.

Ressa, aged 59, is currently on bail and had previously been convicted of cyber libel in 2020 as part of multiple cases filed against the website by government entities. She has consistently asserted that these cases were politically motivated.

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President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has completed 14 months in office, has affirmed his commitment not to meddle in the ongoing court cases involving Rappler. Rappler continues to function without disruption while awaiting the outcome of its appeal against a closure order issued by the securities regulator.

Francis Lim, a member of Maria Ressa’s legal team, expressed optimism that the recent acquittal could potentially result in the dismissal of other pending cases, including the closure order.

In the World Press Freedom Index, the Philippines holds the 132nd position out of 180 countries, where the media is characterised as “extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment” against reporters that are “too critical”.

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