Rappler and Maria Ressa have been acquitted of tax evasion charges by the Philippine Court of Tax Appeals.
They faced counts of ‘alleged wilful and unlawful failure to supply correct and accurate information’ in relation to investments and tax filings dating from 2015.
Andrew Heslop has reported for WAN-Ifra that the four charges collectively representing more than 30 years in jail and a substantial fine, “showed the lengths to which the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte was willing to go to” in using the legal system to silence critical independent media.
“Rappler has been forced to defend 23 cases against it since 2018, seen by supporters as a deliberate tactic to stifle the news organisation’s operational capacity and deplete it financially.”
He said it had been feared that the new administration of president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would pursue the same tactics as his predecessor.
“WAN-Ifra and the World Editors Forum welcome this verdict and stand firmly behind Rappler and Maria Ressa and call on the government to dismiss all remaining charges – once and for all putting an end to the years of legal harassment.”
Welcoming the acquittals, WAN-Ifra challenged the Marcos government to go further by withdrawing remaining cases against Rappler and Ressa and to reaffirm its commitment to a free and independent press in the Philippines “
"We are hugely relieved for Rappler and Maria, who should never have been confronted by these charges in the first place,” it said in a statement. “The legal harassment, false accusations, intimidation, and intense pressure must now completely stop.
“Journalism is not a crime, and the media must be free to conduct business and produce independent reporting without fear of imprisonment, enforced closure, or criminal prosecution.”