Karapatan highlights attacks vs press freedom, freedom of expression for UN special rapporteur’s upcoming visit

Photo by Karl Romano/BenarNews

November 23, 2023

Fourteen years after the Ampatuan massacre, rights group Karapatan said that the unabated attacks against journalists, media practitioners, and advocates of press freedom of opinion and expression be brought to the fore in the upcoming visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression come January 2024.

“In all days, but especially today, we remember that the Philippines remains a dangerous place to exercise press freedom and the right to freedom of expression. Done against the broad range of media practitioners, rights advocates, artists, members of the academe, the threats, the killings, and the attacks against these rights do not stop, but are made far worse,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.

Karapatan made this call following the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights in the Philippines, who made recommendations to abolish the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), an inquiry by the Commission on Human rights on red-tagging, among others.

“We hope that the UN SR on Freedom of Opinion and Expression will see that the situation of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country does not go far better with what the previous UN SR had observed and witnessed in his visit. The curtailment of such rights and freedoms have become even more systematic with the implementation of the ATA, and the continued existence of the hideous NTF ELCAC,” Palabay said.

According to Palabay, bringing forward the cases of the killing of journalists, and the different attacks against other sectors advocating for press freedom and freedom of expression, should “compel the Philippine government to answer regarding its systematic policy to crackdown on critics, opposition, and truth bearers, while, on the other hand, the proliferation of disinformation is unabated and left untouched.”

Karapatan cited the cases of the killing of journalist Percy Lapid, the arrest and trumped up charges against alternative media practitioners like Frenchie Mae Cumpio, the terror-tagging of alternative media outfits like Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, the censorship and banning of books alleged to have subversive content, attacks on websites of progressive organizations and alternative media, the use of the ATA against rights defenders, as among the very long list of attacks perpetrated by state forces.

“Impunity exists in these cases, normalized by the climate of fear sowed by the current government. Mastering the art of masquerading with words that the administration recognizes and protects press freedom and freedom of expression, the Marcos Jr. government is one big fake in saying it upholds or protects such rights. All that transpired in the nearly two years of its term should be deemed urgent, with the grave dangers posed on the people’s basic rights and freedoms,” Palabay said.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan will go on an official country visit to the Philippines from January 23 to February 2024 “to examine, in the spirit of cooperation and dialogue, the situation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the country.”