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Friday, May 24, 2024

UN Special Rapporteur Khan visits Tacloban City Jail

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United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan visited over the weekend members of the “Tacloban 5” at the Tacloban City Jail, where they are being held on suspicion of having ties to the New People’s Army (NPA).

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) said Khan arrived at the Tacloban City jail on Saturday, Jan. 27. She checked on the condition of Frenchie Mae Castro Cumpio, Mariel Alvez Domequil, and Alexander Philip Dizon Abinguna.

Cumpio, who is allegedly the secretary of the Regional White Area Committee of the Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee, and four other suspected communist rebels were arrested in February 2020.

They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives after the military said they found two hand grenades, two .45 caliber pistols, ammunition, a flag of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and P567,000 in cash when they were presented a search warrant.

“In her own [words], Khan described the facility as ‘excellent,’ noting further that it was ‘clean’ and well maintained’ after filing up the jail’s Client Feedback Form,” the PTFoMS said in a statement.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), meanwhile, thanked Khan for visiting journalist Cumpio and human rights defenders Domequil and Abinguna, and adding her voice to appeal for their release.

“We are only int’l visitors so far allowed by #Philippines govt to visit them! Arrested in Feb 2020, trial still dragging on. How long should they wait to be free?” Khan wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

NUJP asserts that the three should not wait any minute longer to be free. They are victims of fabricated charges. The evidence against them were planted, and the testimonies against them falsified.

The Feb. 7, 2020 incident in Tacloban is just one of the many incidents of attacks on human rights defenders, revealing a pattern of using dubious search warrants and planted firearms and explosives.

Journalists Lady Ann Salem and Anne Krueger were subjected to similar transgression of their rights. While Salem’s case had been dismissed, government authorities are appealing the court’s decision. Krueger, meanwhile, is out on bail and the charges against her are still pending.

“We hope that the Special Rapporteur would push for recommendations that would stop these violations,” the NUJP said.

Khan arrived in the Philippines last Jan. 22, and will be in the country until Feb. 2, 2024 to assess the current state of rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Aside from Tacloban, Khan is scheduled to visit Metro Manila, Baguio City, and Cebu City for dialogues, focusing on the exploration of legal and policy frameworks in connection with the safety of journalists and their sources, media freedom, access to information, and hate speech, among others.

The UN Special Rapporteur earlier had a meeting with the National Privacy Commission (NPC) to discuss the agency’s role in protecting data privacy, with Commissioner John Henry Naga believing that Khan’s visit was prompted by an incident in 2022 where a journalist in Bicol was refused access to a blotter.

She also met with Department of Justice (DOJ) officials to discuss red-tagging concerns. The DOJ assured her that the government would pursue cases against state or non-state actors involved in red-tagging.

Khan also met with Supreme Court justices led by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, where they spoke about the Anti-Terrorism Act and judicial reforms.

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