Maria Ressa had declared herself innocent in the tax evasion case, the court accepted her arguments. She became the first Filipino to win the Nobel Prize in 2021.
A Philippine court on Wednesday acquitted Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa and her government-critical online website Relper of four charges of tax evasion. Risa had said in his petition in 2020 that he had not evaded any tax.
The tax evasion case is one of several cases filed by the government against Rappler. The government’s attitude has raised concerns about press freedom in the Southeast Asian country.
Risa, CEO and executive editor of the Manila-based Rappler, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 in recognition of his services. She became the first Filipino to win the Nobel Prize.
“Victory of truth, victory of justice”
Speaking to reporters outside court on Wednesday, Maria Ressa said it was an “emotional” moment for everyone. He described the charges as “politically motivated” and said it was aimed at trying to stop journalists from doing their work.
Referring to the case, he said, “It took four years and two months for the court’s decision to come. But today facts have won, truth has prevailed, justice has prevailed.”
In a statement regarding the court decision, Rappler called it a “victory of facts over politics.” The website thanked the court, saying it “recognized that the fraudulent, false and frivolous allegations” were all baseless.
The Nobel Prize-winning journalist and his website, however, still face three other criminal cases. Among which the case of cyber label is the most important. The case is on appeal and Risa could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Why was Rappler accused of tax evasion?
Maria Ressa founded Rappler to combat misinformation and document former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s human rights abuses during his administration. Rodrigo is accused of widespread human rights abuses during the deadly war on drugs.
Launched in 2012, Rappler is one of the most popular websites in the Philippines. Philippine authorities upheld a 2018 order to shut down the website in June last year. The website shutdown order and tax evasion charges were based on Rappler’s alleged violation of a constitutional provision. This constitutional provision prohibits foreign ownership and control of media companies in the Philippines.
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Rappler with receiving funding from foreign investors, including Omidyar Network and NorthBase Media. In its judgment on Wednesday, the court said that the financial documents through which the payments were made are not taxable. The future of the case against Rappler, however, remains unclear.