freedom of expression

UN rapporteur who flagged press freedom threats in PH set to visit Manila

Michelle Abad

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UN rapporteur who flagged press freedom threats in PH set to visit Manila

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías

The Philippines has invited UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan for a country visit. The DFA says this is an 'opportunity for the Special Rapporteur to appreciate the well-rooted and flourishing democracy of the Philippines.’

MANILA, Philippines – United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan will visit Manila from January 23 to February 2, upon the invitation of the Philippine government, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Saturday, January 20.

The DFA said it was an opportunity for the special rapporteur to “appreciate the well-rooted and flourishing democracy of the Philippines, as the oldest democratic Republic in Asia, as seen in the vibrant media landscape and civic space.”

Khan had earlier flagged certain instances that question the freedom of the press in the Philippines.

The Philippine government said that it was confident that through dialogues and meetings, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, Khan would see for herself the “transparency and progressive agenda” of the government relating to the promotion of free speech.

“This visit signifies the open, sustained, and sincere cooperation of the Philippine government with bilateral and regional partners and the UN, on many fronts, where the country promotes its human rights-based development agenda and good governance as well as its contributions in strengthening global norms to uphold human rights and dignity,” the DFA said in a statement.

Khan will be the third special rapporteur (SR) to pay a country visit to the Philippines in 14 months, following SR for the sale and exploitation of children Fatimah Singhateh in November 2022, and SR for climate change and human rights Ian Fry in November 2023.

SR for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions Morris Tidball-Binz visited the country in February 2023 for an academic visit.

Past remarks

In July 2022, just weeks into President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration, Khan condemned the Philippine Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold the 2020 cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, saying it was proof of how the criminalization of libel can be weaponized against the press.

She had called on the President to withdraw the charges against Ressa and stop orders for internet service providers to restrict access to news websites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly for allegedly violating anti-terrorism laws.

Months later, on the sidelines of the Reuters Trust Conference held in London in October, Khan had told Rappler that it was “very sad to see the denigration of media in the Philippines.”

At the time, it had just been months after the end of the administration of Rodrigo Duterte, who was seen as hostile to critical media. Duterte had invited her for a country visit as well, but she was unable to make the trip.

She said then that she hoped to see “big changes” in policy, particularly in the proper exercise of the constitutional protection of free speech.

In June 2023, Khan asked the Philippines’ Supreme Court to allow her to sit as an amicus curiae or expert in Ressa’s libel case, which is still being appealed. Khan was concerned that the country’s law failed to adequately protect the freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a state party.

Apart from threats to press freedom, the environment for dissent has remained hostile from the Duterte to Marcos administrations, as rights groups flag a continued crackdown on dissent and human rights violations through red-tagging, harassment, and killings of activists and members of civil society organizations. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.