Monday, March 6, 2017

Duterte public attacks has chilling effect on free speech — US State Department | Headlines, News, The Philippine Star |

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The US State Department in a report said President Rodrigo Duterte’s public attacks against critics of his policies had a “chilling effect” on free speech.

In its annual human rights report released on its website Friday, the US State Department said that individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately and even discuss matters of general public interest. However, Duterte’s “public attacks on individuals and international bodies who have criticized his policies had a chilling effect on free speech and expression.”

The US State Department cited as an example Duterte’s public accusations against Sen. Leila De Lima. The accusations were already thrown even before a formal government investigations occurred.

It said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) only launched a probe after the president claimed De Lima received benefits from the drug trade during her term as commissioner of human rights and justice secretary. Due to this, the US State Department questioned the timeliness of Duterte’s claims against De Lima.

“Duterte’s allegations came at the same time that De Lima began hearings into alleged extrajudicial killings in the government’s anti-drug campaign as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human rights,” the report read.

The report also cited that De Lima was ousted as the chairperson of the Senate committee after she called as a witness self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato to testify regarding Duterte’s direct involvement in alleged extrajudicial killings during his tenure as Davao City mayor. It noted that the senator was replaced by someone considered as Duterte’s ally, Sen. Richard Gordon."

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'Journalists also face harassment, threats'

Like De Lima, the US State Department report noted that journalists also “faced harassment and threats of violence, including from politicians and government authorities critical of their reporting.” It cited that in April 2016, Duterte, then a presidential candidate, threatened that journalists could be assassinated if they were corrupt.

“In April then candidate Duterte drew widespread criticism after he told the media that journalists should enjoy no special protections and could be 'assassinated' if they were 'corrupt' and took money from politicians. Human rights NGOs frequently criticized the government for failing to protect journalists,” the report read.

The US State Department added that several journalists reported an “uptick” in online threats, including threats of violence and harassment, in response to articles posted online that were critical of the government.

“Journalists critical of the government reported that they did not yet feel that threats to their personal safety were credible but they were concerned about losing access to the president and presidential palace if they were seen as overly critical,” it said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016” demonstrate the United States’ unwavering commitment to advancing liberty, human dignity and global prosperity.

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