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MANILA, Philippines – A United Nations (UN) special rapporteur asked the Supreme Court (SC) to allow her to sit as an expert in the pending libel case of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa.
In a motion filed on Monday, June 5, Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and of Expression, asked the High Court to allow her to appear as an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court).” Khan, in her motion, also asked the SC to allow her to submit her amicus curiae brief in the libel case involving Ressa, and former Rappler researcher Rey Santos Jr.
Khan’s brief will provide the SC “the international and regional legal standards as they apply to freedom of expression, especially regarding its application to the law of defamation.” An amicus brief is submitted to a court to help it decide on a specific case.
According to the UN rapporteur’s briefer, Khan is “concerned” that the law in the country fails to adequately protect the right to freedom of expression under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Philippines is a state party in the said covenant.
Khan specifically noted the anti-cybercrime law: “In particular, the Cybercrime Prevention Act raises serious concerns that it limits the ability of journalists to expose, document and address issues of important public interest, thereby violating the right to receive and impart information.”
Lawyer Rodel Taton, dean of San Sebastian College-Recoletos Graduate School of Law, represents the special rapporteur.
In 2020, a Manila court convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over charges filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng. The case stands as a test for the anti-cybercrime law. Two years later, in 2022, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed Ressa’s and Santos’ convictions and imposed a longer prison sentence.
The CA also junked the motion for reconsideration filed by Ressa in October 2022. The case is now pending before the High Court.
How does amicus curiae work?
As an expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, Khan had been tasked to gather relevant information in relation to alleged violations of right to freedom of opinion and expression, according to her briefer. Khan also has the power to provide recommendations and suggestions to better promote and protect the right to freedom of expression.
Now, in relation to Ressa’s case, Khan asked the High Court to designate her a “friend of the court” so she can lend her expertise on the pending case. Amici curiae are usually invited by the court in constitutional cases to weigh in and give their insights.
Since Khan was not invited by the SC, she volunteered herself by filing the motion to intervene.
In 2020, former special rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye also submitted an amicus brief to the Manila court, which handled Ressa’s case. Kaye said the brief sought to “provide the Honorable Court with a greater understanding of the role of journalists and the special protection all Member States must accord.” – Rappler.com