Maria Ressa Has Been Acquitted of Tax Evasion Charges

Filipino Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and her online news outlet Rappler has been acquitted of four tax evasion charges. An appellate court made the ruling on Wednesday, January 18. If convicted, Ressa would have faced 34 years in jail. “Today, facts win. Truth wins. Justice wins,” the Rappler CEO stated.

Al Jazeera reports that these cases stemmed from accusations by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). Rappler allegedly had omitted the proceeds of a 2015 sale of depositary receipts to foreign investors from its tax returns, which later became the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s basis for revoking its license. Nevertheless, Rappler remains operational today, while battling the SEC’s order to shut it down.

In its 80-page decision, the CTA said the respondents, Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corp., did not commit the allegations,” Rappler reported. Moreover, civil liability cannot be awarded “since there is no act or omission punishable by law.”

Aside from Rappler’s appeal against the closure order issued by the SEC, the 59-year-old is still facing two more legal cases. These are a separate tax case filed by prosecutors in another court and her supreme court appeal on an online libel conviction, according to The Guardian. When asked about this, Ressa told reporters, “We keep going. You prepare for the worst-case scenario, and you keep going.”

In line with Wednesday’s ruling, human rights non-governmental organization Amnesty International has also reportedly urged the authorities to drop the remaining cases.

Leading the team in defending Ressa and Rappler’s cases is human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. She and her co-barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC are part of the international counsels who are working with Ressa’s local team.

The Nobel laureate won the prestigious award in 2021 alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov for their fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.

Ressa is also named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018, along with  Jamal Khashoggi, Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, and the Capital Gazette.

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