Karapatan urges Mandaluyong court to release detained journalist Salem, Esparago “immediately and unconditionally”

Rights group Karapatan urged the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court to release detained journalist Lady Ann Salem and Rodrigo Esparago “immediately and unconditionally,” more than a week after charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against them were dismissed.

“We appeal to the court to carry out the most just and immediate action on Salem and Esparago, and that is to order them released. Letting them stay longer inside jail runs counter to the sound decision of the court, and furthers the violations committed against them from the point of their arrest, up to the trumped-up charges filed against them,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

In its February 5, 2021 decision, Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 dismissed the charges against the two, excluding the evidence recovered from the raid and also taking note of the inconsistencies in the statements of the police and informants, thereby stating there was no probable cause to issue a search warrant.

“As the continued detention of Salem and Esparago has no basis now that the cases against them were dismissed, there is equally no basis for the prosecution to oppose the release of the two. It only aggravates the fact that since the time of their arrest on December 10, they have been made to suffer the consequences of the continuous crackdown and arrest spree of state forces against individuals, activists, shamelessly using the law that should, in the first place, safeguard the rights of persons and citizens,” Palabay said.

Quoting Salem’s reply filed by her legal counsel on Thursday, “The dismissal of the cases, drawn upon the quashal of the search warrant and consequential declaration that the seized evidence is inadmissible as evidence, is one tantamount to an acquittal.”

Karapatan also warned against possible moves of those pressing for the continued detention of Salem and Esparago.

“We are wary that by their continued detention, state forces or their vicious minions are cooking up another move to justify the previous charges against them. We hope the court recognizes these shameless and dirty tactics used by state forces against individuals, making a mockery of the law to render lawlessness,” Palabay stated.

The group again called out for public support in the release of Salem and Esparago, together with the five other labor organizers arrested on International Human Rights Day last year, who are detained on trumped-up charges.

“These elements who are implementing arrest sprees, illegal raids, arrests and filing of trumped up charges against activists, persons critical of government, and ordinary citizens, by the orders of their commander-in-chief Rodrigo Duterte and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), should be deplored. We remain hopeful, however, that as we continue to press for their release, and the people demand for justice and accountability amid these challenging times, we will surely overcome,” Palabay ended.