In what could headline the clamor for press freedom worldwide, Philippine Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa and her online outlet Rappler has been acquitted of tax evasion.
A jubilant Ressa said this regarding her victory: “Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins,” said Ms. Ressa, who, if found guilty, could have spent up to 34 years in prison.
The litigation that started in 2018 has concluded thanks to the Nobel laureate’s legal win.
Ms. Ressa, who founded Rappler, has been the target of legal action launched by the Philippine government.
Under former leader Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine government had accused Ms. Ressa and Rappler of evading tax payments when it raised capital through its partnership with foreign investors.
The ruling by an appellate court on Wednesday is seen as a triumph over the Duterte administration viewed as intolerant to critical reporting.
She told reporters: “These charges, as you know, were politically motivated. They were a brazen abuse of power and meant to stop journalists from doing their jobs,”
Ms Ressa won the Nobel along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021.
Rappler earned a reputation for its in-depth reporting and tough scrutiny of Duterte’s “war on drugs.”
Official statistics show that more than 6,200 individuals died in police anti-drug operations, but human rights organizations believe that the number of fatalities was much higher.
Press freedom supporters claim that since then, Ressa and Rappler have been subjected to a relentless string of criminal accusations, investigations, and internet attacks.
Today, Rappler is still in business and resists the Securities and Exchange Commission’s directive to shut it down.
Ressa, 59, is still not fully off the hook as she is facing three other criminal charges, including a conviction for cyber-libel that is now on appeal and could result in a sentence of over seven years in prison.