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A win for Maria, Rappler and press freedom
But she's not safe yet
For once, I am writing to you with good news: A few hours ago — Wednesday morning in Manila — the Philippines tax court of appeals threw out four charges of tax evasion against Maria Ressa ‘86 and Rappler, the news organization she founded. You can read more about the decision on Rappler.
Rappler’s video of Maria’s very emotional reaction gives a rare insight into what kind of pressure this remarkably upbeat woman has been enduring.
This ends a four-year legal battle initiated by the administration of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, which falsely claimed that Rappler was foreign-owned. This baseless charge has become a standard chapter of what I call the “dictator’s playbook” — tactics that seem to be passed around the globe by people in positions of power who are trying to muzzle critics and silence dissent. So it’s good for more than Maria to see this sort of thing dismissed for the baseless slander it is.
But this does not end Maria’s trials — both literal and figurative. An appeal of her conviction on the charge of “cyber-libel,” a crime that did not even exist in Philippine law at the time Maria is supposed to have committed it, is before the country’s Supreme Court. A ruling against her would send the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate to jail for nearly seven years.
It is one of more than 23 individual cases opened by the Duterte regime against Maria and her Rappler colleagues. You can read more about the toll this has taken on our fellow Princetonian and her organization in this post from a coalition of press freedom organizations that have been supporting Maria.
Today’s ruling seems to open the door for the new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to signal that he’s ready to open a new chapter in the Philippines. Marcos is now in Davos for the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people in a small Swiss ski resort.
Marcos is there to seek foreign investment in his country. Here is hoping that some of the VIPs whom he meets will tell him that businesses seek stability, that the biggest threat to a stable business climate is corruption and that the biggest threat to corruption is a free press. So drop the rest of the charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler and let them do their jobs.
I know Maria is very appreciative of all the Princeton community has done for her. If you want to show your support, the best thing to do right now is make a donation to Rappler. And with a new Congress beginning its term, it would be a good time to write your senators and your representative about the importance of the U.S. standing up for a free press generally and for Maria Ressa in particular.
Instructions for how to find names and addresses of your elected representatives are in my earlier post.
Rappler itself is offering suggestions on how to show support for Maria here.
As Maria would say #CourageOn. And keep the support coming. It matters.