Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC welcome acquittal of Maria Ressa of spurious tax charges

Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, on behalf of the international legal team representing journalist Maria Ressa, have welcomed the decision issued today by the Philippines’ Court of Tax Appeals acquitting her of spurious tax charges.

Ms Ressa’s prosecution for alleged tax crimes was based on four separate charges related to investments secured by her news organisation, Rappler.  The charges alleged that Ms. Ressa and Rappler evaded tax and misrepresented tax returns on two transactions from 2015 that secured investment from a global philanthropic fund. The charges were based on a concocted theory, never before applied in the Philippines, that a news organisation was a ‘dealer in securities’ and had to pay additional taxes that apply only to such bodies.  

The case against Ms Ressa was announced just hours after she accepted a prestigious journalism award, and was clearly a political act designed to silence her. It was clear from the outset that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing - as the Court of Tax Appeals has now confirmed. 

Today’s decision is a milestone in the struggle for a free press, and we are grateful to the Court of Tax Appeals for upholding Maria’s innocence and the rule of law.

But Maria still faces an ongoing campaign of state-sponsored legal harassment which includes a spurious criminal “cyberlibel” conviction resulting from public interest reporting on alleged corruption by the Chief Justice of the Philippines Supreme Court, the revocation of Rappler’s operating licence and other criminal charges relating to alleged foreign control of Rappler, carrying prison sentences amounting to over 50 years in jail. 

This abusive campaign against Ms Ressa and her team of journalists has been widely condemned internationally, including by the UN, the US Department of State and US Congress, the EU and the Media Freedom Coalition of over 50 states.  Most recently, in its 2022 Report on the Philippines, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed alarm at “the prevalent use of criminal and civil legal actions against journalists and media outlets including Nobel Peace laureate Maria Ressa, her media outlet, Rappler, and journalists of Rappler.”

Commenting on today’s decision, Ms Amal Clooney said:

"For four years my client has had a 30-year sentence hanging over her head while the Philippine courts considered the spurious charges filed against her. The charges were political – a straightforward attempt to silence a journalist. But today we see justice being done. We see judges drawing a line. We see freedom being upheld. 

May this be the beginning of a new chapter in the Philippines in which journalists are safe, speech is free, democracy is secured and the rule of law can prevail”.

Ms Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC said:

"Today marks a vital legal victory for Maria Ressa, our indefatigable client, and for Rappler. These were baseless charges; a blatant politically motivated attempt to criminalise Ms Ressa for years of hard-hitting investigative reporting holding the powerful to account. This is a threat which should never have been made and a prosecution which should never have been brought. But today the Court of Tax Appeals has handed down a just and fair ruling, clearing Ms Ressa of all four charges which could have seen her spend three decades behind bars. 

Now, the question is whether this is a one-off, rare victory for justice and press freedom in the Philippines, or a sign of wider change to come. The world is watching.”

Ms Ressa said:

"Today, facts win. Truth wins. Justice wins. 

This acquittal is not just for me and for Rappler. It is for every Filipino who has ever been unjustly accused.”

The international legal team led by Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC includes fellow barristers Can Yeginsu and Claire Overman.  The team is also working closely with Peter Lichtenbaum, Stephen Rademaker and Rani Gupta of Covington & Burling LLP.