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Dissent is not a crime

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THE COMMISSION on Human Rights denounces the alleged repressive actions against Joshua B. Molo, editor-in-chief of The Dawn, the official campus paper of the University of the East.

On his personal social media account, the student journalist expressed his criticisms on how the government is handling the coronavirus disease, but these remarks did not sit well with the opinions of his former teachers. One of them reported Molo to authorities and allegedly threatened to file a cyberlibel case against him if he does not do a public apology. He was summoned to the Barangay Hall of San Fernando Sur in Nueva Ecija.

The CHR condemns this blatant disregard for Molo’s dignity and fundamental human rights. Right to freedom of opinion and expression are the lifeblood of a democratic society. Efforts by government and non-government entities to suppress nonviolent expression could lead to far more dangerous and compromising outcomes, as free speech is a necessary precondition to the enjoyment of other rights such as freedom of assembly and association, press freedom, and right to vote among others. Laws are meant to protect rights, not curtail them.

We reiterate that dissent and expression of grievance against government actions and views are not crimes—but are constitutionally recognised rights. Instead of going after individuals and organisations who articulate their dissatisfaction to government response to the current crisis, addressing the main issues, such as hunger, unemployment, and other pressing concerns must be prioritised. Dissenting voices are necessary and should be given space in order to allow better leadership.

How our society tolerates and entertains the most minority and disfavoured views reflects how it values and recognises the worth of our fundamental freedoms. We call on every Filipino to remain vigilant in defending our freedom of expression while holding the real perpetrators of anti-people policies, not the innocents, to account. Instead of shrinking democratic spaces, our collective goal should always improve the way each and everyone’s rights are upheld, guided by the laws that protect them.

(Statement of CHR on the alleged ‘forced’ public apology order on University of the East’s campus paper chief, 6 April 2020)

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