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Philippines: FORUM-ASIA responds to the warrantless arrest of Filipino writer and artist Maria Victoria ‘Bambi’ Beltran over COVID-19 post

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In response to the warrantless arrest of writer and artist Maria Victoria ‘Bambi’ Beltran for her Facebook post concerning the rising COVID-19 cases in Cebu City, the Philippines, FORUM-ASIA Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said:

The Government of the Philippines should immediately release Dakila member Maria Victoria ‘Bambi’ Beltran, drop all charges against her and respect the freedom of expression.

Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella accused Beltran of committing a criminal act by peddling false information through her social media post. Without a warrant, Beltran was arrested at midnight on Sunday. The police have filed three charges against her: a violation of Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to the Cyber-Crime Act, a violation of the disinformation provision in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and a violation of the law on Mandatory Reporting of Certain Diseases.

We are seeing the heightened use of repressive laws to target human rights defenders, under the guise of a COVID-19 response. Along with the Government’s intensified military and police response, these attacks on freedom of expression create a climate of fear for human rights defenders and the general public, and reflect the growing authoritarianism of Duterte’s regime.

Dakila, a FORUM-ASIA member in the Philippines, is an organisation advocating for social transformation and promoting human rights through arts and culture. FORUM-ASIA supports its call to immediately release Beltran and end the judicial harassment of human rights defenders. The Government of the Philippines must halt the abuse of state power and adopt a rights-based response to the pandemic instead.

For media inquiries, please contact the Communications and Media Programme, [email protected]