Freedom of expression now 'battlefield' in fight for human rights – Amnesty Int'l

MANILA, Philippines – Free speech will take on “colossal importance” in 2018 as the fight for human rights continues, the Amnesty International said in its latest report.

According to AI’s the State of the World’s Human Rights released on Thursday, February 22, the continuous manipulation of public opinion by leaders pose as key threat against democracy across the world. 

In the Philippines, the report highlighted President Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks against human rights activists and critics, including the media. These individuals and groups consistently monitored the administration’s actions – particularly the war on drugs. 

“Human rights defenders, in particular those critical of the government, faced threats and intimidation,” the group said. “Journalists worked in dangerous and at times deadly environments.” 

Jose Noel Olano of AI Philippines said that the space for freedom of expression and speech is decreasing as threats from the administration are hurled against civil society and the media.  

“We see that given what has happened in the area of freedom of expression and in the area of checks and balances, what has happened is that there is diminishing space and therefore the ability to voice out and to criticize and to check government is constricting and has even become dangerous,” Olano said. 

Human rights organizations and personalities have been demonized by Duterte since taking office in 2016. He had cursed and threatened defenders with physical violence. 

Meanwhile, barely two years into his presidency, the government has continuously threatened several media outlets. (READ: From Marcos to Duterte: How media was attacked, threatened)

‘Make sure it doesn’t happen’

The report, which covers 159 countries, also highlighted the increasing “lawlessness and violence” in the Philippines – a situation that reflects the worsening human rights situation in the Southeast Asian region.  

These include the Rohingya as victims of systematic attacks in Myanmar and a government crackdown has suppressed opposition and a free press in Cambodia, among others. (READ: The deafening silence of ASEAN on human rights violations)

“The President’s contempt for human rights in the war on drugs was characterized by mass killings mostly of people from poor and marginalized groups,” AI said. “The scope of killings and rampant impunity led to growing calls for an investigation at the international level.” 

According to Olano, Filipinos should ensure that these human rights violations will not continue.  

“People have remained silent, although they feel things are not right, they have chosen to be silent and that’s why what we are saying is that it is the time,” he said. “The battlefield right now is freedom of expression.” 

While they respect those who choose to remain silent, Olano emphasized that the times now call on people “to come out and be brave.”

“If something like the right to life that’s easily taken, it is incumbent upon us to speak out and act,” he added. –

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.