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Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion charges

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion charges

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion charges

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted of tax evasion charges

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  • Nobel laureate Maria Ressa was acquitted in the final tax evasion case.
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  • Ressa still faces a cyber-libel conviction and a shutdown order against Rappler.
  • Ressa says attacks against journalists continue and warns of disinformation ahead of 2024 elections.

Maria Ressa, a Nobel laureate, has secured an acquittal in the final among the five tax evasion cases brought against her in the Philippines, a development celebrated as a victory for the cause of press freedom.

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“You know the song of our generation? You got to have faith,” she told the media.

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During the tenure of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, all of these cases were initiated. Maria Ressa’s news outlet, Rappler, notably published critical reports on his controversial anti-drug campaign.

In recognition of her courageous journalism amid increasing authoritarianism in the Philippines, she was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.

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“Journalism is the antidote to tyranny,” she told the media.

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During the tenure of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, all of these cases were initiated. Maria Ressa’s news outlet, Rappler notably published critical reports on his controversial anti-drug campaign.

In recognition of her courageous journalism amid increasing authoritarianism in the Philippines, she was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.

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“This is a victory not just for Rappler but for everyone who has kept the faith that a free and responsible press empowers communities and strengthens democracy,” Rappler said in a statement on Ms. Ressa’s acquittal last Monday.

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A tax evasion conviction could have resulted in Maria Ressa facing a lengthy prison sentence of up to 34 years. These cases were linked to the 2015 sale of Philippine depositary receipts, a method used by companies to raise funds from foreign investors.

However, the 59-year-old journalist is still in the process of appealing a separate cyber-libel case in which she was found guilty and handed a seven-year prison sentence.

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She is currently out on bail as she pursues this legal recourse.

Furthermore, Rappler, the news organization she co-founded, is actively contesting a shutdown order issued by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission.

This order alleges that Rappler violated a constitutional prohibition against foreign investments in local media.

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“(The acquittal) took too long (but) it validates our position from the beginning that these cases are political harassment against Rappler,” Ms Ressa told the media.

Attacks against journalists in the Philippines and around the world “doesn’t end”, she said.

“It is part of information warfare. It is used by those in power to consolidate power. On social media, lies spread six times faster than facts.”

She added: “Our information ecosystems are so tainted that we are walking into battle handcuffed.”

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Maria Ressa pointed out that following the departure of Mr. Duterte from office, the organized hostility towards journalists and public figures on Philippine social media has diminished.

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Nevertheless, she cautioned that the proliferation of disinformation has evolved beyond mere trolling and fake accounts, now encompassing the manipulation of search algorithms.

Additionally, Ms. Ressa voiced apprehension about the potential utilization of generative artificial intelligence and the structural changes taking place within social media giants like Meta (formerly Facebook) and X (formerly Twitter).

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“Given the patterns, we’ve seen right now, 2024 will be significantly worse,” she said, adding that the year will be a “tipping point for democracy” with elections scheduled in Taiwan, India, and Indonesia.

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