CEBU CITY, Philippines – Cebu-based artist Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran was selected as one of 17 laureates of the 2020 Deutsche Welle (DW) Freedom of Speech Award.
The names of the award winners were announced Wednesday evening, May 6.
“On April 19, Cebu-based artist Maria Victoria Beltran was jailed for a satirical Facebook post she had published in relation to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City,” the DW said in their announcement.
“The mayor called her post ‘fake news and a criminal act’ and threatened Beltran with imprisonment.”
The arrest was also done without a warrant.
DW said in their statement naming the laureates that “they represent all journalists worldwide who have disappeared or been arrested or threatened because of their reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The international broadcast network is based in Bonn, Germany, and has channels in English, German, Spanish, and Arabic. They have been presenting the Freedom of Speech Award since 2015 to “a person or initative that has shown outstanding commitment to human rights and freedom of expression in the media.”
Why it matters: Beltran is the only artist among this year’s laureates, while the rest are journalists or citizen journalists from 14 different countries including Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, China, and India, among others.
Originally from Butuan City, Beltran has been a longtime resident of Cebu City, where she runs restaurant and cafe Kukuk’s Nest, a popular spot for the city’s arts community.
Beltran is a well-known screenwriter, poet, and actor of local independent Visayan films. Her original story “Ang Damgo Ni Eleuteria” was adapted into a screenplay by Remton Zuasola that won 4 Gawad Urian awards in 2011.
Beltran told Rappler that she was surprised to learn about the award.
“A German friend sent me the announcement, I was surprised,” she said.
Her case caught the attention of international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, who urged the government to drop the charges against Beltran.
The recognition comes a day after the National Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday, May 5, ordered local broadcast giant ABS-CBN to cease broadcast operations.
A radio reporter was shot dead in neighboring Dumaguete City the same evening.
“This recognition reaffirms my belief that the ability to express our opinion and speak freely is essential to bring about change in society,” Beltran said.
“We should protect this precious right, many people go to prison and died doing so,” she added.
What happened? Beltran, who spent almost 3 days in jail over the Facebook post, said she was handcuffed to a chair while being interrogated by police.
She was booked for violating the cybercrime law, the fake news provision of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, and the law on mandatory reporting of certain diseases.
Beltran was released on April 21 after posting a P42,000 bail for all 3 charges.
The artist is suing Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella for allegedly violating her rights when she was arrested.
Her legal counsel Amando Virgil Ligutan said Beltran’s rights were violated when her accuser, Labella, was allowed to see her in the holding area before her own legal counsel. He said this was a violation of the custodial investigation law.
Labella previously said the arrest was “nothing personal.” – Rappler.com