Nobel winner Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion though she faces 2 more legal cases


MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa was acquitted of a final tax evasion charge Tuesday though she still faces two remaining legal cases she believes the former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte used to muzzle her critical reporting.

Ressa and her online news organization Rappler had faced five tax evasion charges but a court acquitted her of four of the charges in January. A different court heard the fifth charge and acquitted her Tuesday.

“Facts wins, truth wins, justice wins,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.

Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the 2021 Nobel for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression by fighting for the survival of their news organizations and defying government efforts to shut them.

She had said the charges against her were politically motivated as Rappler was critical of Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs that left thousands of mostly petty drug suspects dead. The International Criminal Court is investigating the crackdown as a possible crime against humanity.

Rappler also criticized Duterte’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic including prolonged lockdowns that deepened poverty, caused one of the country’s worst recessions and sparked allegations of corruption in government medical purchases.

Ressa also said there appeared to be a “lifting of fear” under the Philippines’ new leader — Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is the namesake son of the dictator overthrown in the army-backed “people power” uprising in 1986.

Ressa is still appealing to the Supreme Court against an online libel conviction, while Rappler is challenging a closure order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“You’ve got to have faith,” Ressa said. “The acquittal now strengthens our resolve to continue with the justice system, to submit ourselves to the court despite the political harassment, despite the attacks on press freedom. It shows that the court system works and we hope to see the remaining charges dismissed.”

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