Clampdown on freedom of expression in Philippines alarms UN human rights chief

05-Jun-2020 Intellasia | PhilStar | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The United Nations rights chief sounded alarm over the arbitrary arrests of people who criticise their government’s response to the coronavirus crisis or even simply share views on the pandemic in different Asian countries, including the Philippines.

In a statement, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Asian nations were suppressing freedom of expression and tightening censorship during the coronavirus crisis.

“In the Philippines, arrests have been made under new COVID-19 special powers legislation which criminalises the alleged spread of ‘false information,’” Bachelet said.

She cited the provision in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which penalises spreading “false information” on social media and other platforms. Those found violating the provision may face imprisonment for two months or a fine of not less than P10,000. Courts may also impose a fine of up to P1 million.

This led to the arrest of artist Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran in April over a satirical Facebook post about the coronavirus situation in Sitio Zapatera in Cebu City.

In early April, the National Bureau of Investigation said they sent out dozens of “invitations” to individuals under its fact-finding probe into posts allegedly bearing false information.

The UN rights chief also mentioned the move of the Department of Labour and Employment to seek the deportation of a Filipina worker in Taiwan who is accused of making “nasty and malevolent” social media posts criticising President Rodrigo Duterte’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Taiwan rejected the move to deport the migrant worker.

While she recognised the need to restrict misinformation and disinformation to protect public health or prevent incitement of hatred toward minority groups, Bachelet said this “must be proportionate and protect freedom of expression.”

“In these times of great uncertainty, medical professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and the general public must be allowed to express opinions on vitally important topics of public interest such as provision of health care and the handling of the health and socio-economic crisis and the distribution of relief items,” Bachelet said.

“This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate. A diversity of viewpoints will foster greater understanding of the challenges we face and help us better overcome them,” she added.

The controversial anti-terrorism bill is now up for Duterte’s signature after the House of Represenatives passed Wednesday the proposed measure, which is feared to infringe on people’s freedom of association and expression.

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/06/Apr/2018657/clampdown-freedom-expression-philippines-alarms-un-human-rights-chief

 


Category: Philippines

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