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Opinion Maria Ressa’s acquittal is a win for ‘facts, truth and justice’

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa is interviewed at Rappler's office in Manila on Wednesday. (Jam Sta Rosa/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor Maria Ressa and Rappler, an online news site in the Philippines, were acquitted of tax evasion by the country’s Court of Tax Appeals on Wednesday. This lifts from her shoulders one of several politically motivated charges aimed at suffocating her organization. The court’s dismissal of the charge is a welcome first step, a win for “facts, truth and justice,” as she put it, in a country that has seen assaults on all three in recent years.

The challenges to press freedom have never been more acute. Despots such as former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte have shown that instead of locking the doors and using physical force against a newsroom, it is just as harmful to swamp the owners with phony court cases or, as evident in Russia and Turkey, change the ownership altogether, installing friendly cronies to subvert independent journalism. This is the method of leaders who do not want to face probing questions and accountability.

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Ms. Ressa faced such pressure from Mr. Duterte, who was president from 2016 to 2022 and launched an extrajudicial war on drugs in which thousands of people were killed arbitrarily and with impunity. Rappler journalists fearlessly documented the death toll. The president then came after the news organization with the tax case, claiming that Rappler had avoided taxes in the course of raising capital with foreign investors. “The acquittal of the accused is based on the findings of the court … that respondents did not commit the crime charge,” the court said in its decision. Rappler welcomed the decision, calling the charges “fraudulent, false, and flimsy.”

Next, Ms. Ressa, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, faces three more harassment cases: a separate tax charge; her Supreme Court appeal of an online libel conviction; and Rappler’s appeal of a closure order issued by the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission. Hopefully, Ms. Ressa will also prevail in these cases, and she will remain, with Rappler, a fiercely independent example of the free press in action.

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Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).