HRW flags ‘persistent’ harassment of journalists in 2022

The Philippine Star
HRW flags �persistent� harassment of journalists in 2022
Bulatlat managing editor Ronalyn Olea and lawyers Minnie Lopez and Floyd Tiongson of the National Union of People's Lawyers speak to media in front of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on July 8, 2022.

MANILA, Philippines — Human Rights Watch flagged in a report released Thursday what it called the "persistent" harassment of journalists in 2022, marked by attempts to silence news outlets critical of the Marcos Jr. administration as well as by libel charges against media workers.

Press groups in the country have long been raising the alarm on physical attacks and other attempts to intimidate journalists. The New York-based watchdog said in its report on the Philippines that "harassment of journalists also persisted in the past year."

This was on top of the killings of four journalists in 2022, including two — broadcasters Percy Lapid and Renato Blanco — who were killed during the first few months of the Marcos Jr. administration. Charges have been filed over the murder of Lapid — who also went by Percy Mabasa — although it is yet unclear who was really behind his death.

HRW said "the government sought to silence journalists critical of the administration" by restricting access to the websites of Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly. The National Telecommunications Commission ordered the websites blocked in mid-2022 over a request by the National Security Council claiming the websites were affiliated with communist rebels. 

The human rights watchdog also noted the use of cyber libel against journalists, columnists, government critics and even ordinary social media users. 

Particularly, it took note of the arrest of former Rep. Walden Bello and the conviction of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for cyber libel. The cyber libel 

In 2012, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights declared that the continued criminalization of libel in the Philippines violated the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Journalists. press freedom and freedom of expression advocates have been calling to decriminalize libel, along with the graver cyber libel offense stipulated in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012,for decades. — Xave Gregorio

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