Ill-advised special rapporteur

Ill-advised special rapporteur

United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan

Last week, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan condemned the Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold the 2020 ‘cyber libel’ conviction of Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa.

A week earlier, on July 7, the appellate court affirmed the libel conviction of Ressa, Rappler co-founder and CEO, and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr, in relation to an article published in Rappler in 2012, months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act was enacted.

The article cites an intelligence report that linked businessman Wilfredo Keng, the private complainant, to human trafficking and drug smuggling.

Keng’s complaint was dismissed by investigators at the National Bureau of Investigation in 2018, but transmitted records of the dismissal to the Department of Justice for investigation a week later.

Prosecutors indicted Ressa and Santos over a version of a story “republished” in 2014, but Rappler argued the 2014 update was just to correct a typographical error.

In its latest ruling, the CA also increased the maximum prison sentence by several months to 6 years, 8 months, and 20 days.

“The criminalization of journalists for libel impedes public interest reporting and is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. Criminal libel law has no place in a democratic country and should be repealed,” the Bangladeshi lawyer Khan said.

“I am also concerned that the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act is being applied retroactively in this case, as the Rappler article in question was published before this law was enacted. This is yet another example of the relentless attack against Maria Ressa for daring to speak truth to power,” Khan said.

Ressa, co-awardee of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines, faces numerous criminal and other charges related to her work, which Rappler and Ressa supporters see as reprisals against her reporting.

It appears the Bangladeshi has not done much research before issuing her statement on what really happened in the Ressa et al case.

A few more minutes to turning a page during her legal research, the human rights activist, who previously served as the seventh Secretary General of the London-based Amnesty International, would have discovered the case against Ressa and former Rappler writer Reynaldo Santos was committed before the law on cybercrime was signed, which means there was already a libel law.

Ressa herself has said Rappler will continue “holding the line” and will exhaust all available legal remedies.

Khan, if she had only done her research well, would have been persuaded that in fact there is no crackdown on press freedom in the Philippines.

One veteran Filipino journalist, lawyer Emil P. Jurado who has with his unwearied pen seven decades as a member of the fourth estate, has strongly suggested the United Nations should fire Khan “for commenting on something she is ignorant about and how she is displaying utter stupidity,” adding in his Manila Standard column “with special rapporteurs like Khan, no wonder the UN is losing credibility.”

On June 28, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission affirmed its 2018 decision to revoke Rappler’s certificates of incorporation, effectively confirming its shutdown.

Heretofore, on June 8, the Philippine National Telecommunications Commission ordered internet providers to restrict access to local news websites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly for allegedly violating anti-terrorism laws. Authorities have provided no evidence to justify the blockage.

Then here comes Khan, imprudently fast on the draw without appreciating the facts and other causes of action in the case: “I am deeply concerned by recent developments in the Philippines to silence independent and investigative journalism in the country.

“I call on the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to put an end to the criminalization of libel, withdraw the charges against Maria Ressa, reverse the decisions against Rappler, Bulatlat, and Pinoy Weekly, and investigate promptly and effectively all attacks and killings of journalists.

“I urge President Marcos to take this opportunity to bring an end to the crackdown on press freedom in the Philippines.”

Come on, get it on, what’s Khan talking about?

Does she know that the three branches of government in the Philippines are co-equal and coordinate, which are basic in political science subjects?

Has she become so feeling healthy in her belief that, as a UN official, she can now tell the President of a sovereign nation to do as she pleases without the latter violating the law?

As some submit, can Khan.

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