Rights groups and press freedom activists to hold webinar on lawfare, impunity for crimes vs journalists

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The Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. de Lima (Free Leila Committee), in cooperation with the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, the Asian Center for Journalism, and Cebu for Human Rights, will hold a webinar to address the alarming phenomenon of lawfare, media crackdown and the impunity for crimes and abuses against journalists on Nov. 21 (Saturday).

This webinar on lawfare was originally set on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists last Nov. 2 but was moved to a later date due to recent super typhoons.

Dubbed as “From Repression to Resistance: A Webinar on Combatting the Lawfare Against Press Freedom,” the virtual forum will be an opportunity to discuss the disturbing phenomenon of journalist killings and media repression in the context of the lawfare against free press and free expression. 

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, lawfare has worsened, as evidenced by the innumerable threats and attacks against journalists and government critics, as well as the deployment of troll armies and online bots, purposely to ward off criticisms of the government,” said the Committee advocating for Senator De Lima’s freedom. 

“Expectedly, these incidents have contributed to self-censorship and has brought a chilling effect not only among the media practitioners, but also among the wider public,” it added.

Citing recent attacks against journalists, the Committee recalled the cases of Virgilio Maganes, a radio commentator and local newspaper columnist who was shot and killed by two men on a motorcycle last Nov. 10 and the red-tagging of Nestor Burgos Jr, a veteran Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reporter and former chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

Since a great number of killings and attacks on journalists have not been prosecuted and resulted in crimes that go unpunished, leading media practitioners, press freedom and human rights advocates, legal experts and sectoral leaders will grace the webinar to share their expertise, insights, and experiences on lawfare against press freedom and cognate rights.

The speakers in the said forum include Prof. Walden Bello, a foremost sociologist and a member of the Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. de Lima, Rappler Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa who faced a slew of harassment cases under the present administration and has been served with multiple arrest warrants, Froilan Gallardo, a veteran photographer and journalist, and Senator De Lima, to be represented by her Chief of Staff, Atty. Fhillip Sawali.  

The Committee to Protect Journalists 2020 Global Impunity Index ranks the Philippines seventh (7th) among countries where journalists are killed and their killers go free. In its Media Freedom Report for Southeast Asia published in December 2019, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has dubbed the Philippines as the deadliest peacetime country for journalists in the region.

The Free Leila Committee said the forum “will be an opportunity for media practitioners, human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society actors and other stakeholders to come together to network and jumpstart discussions on possible collaborative and intensified campaigns against lawfare and for press freedom.”

Around 800 direct participants, including the speakers, moderators and members of the media will join the virtual room of Zoom. It can also be viewed by the public via livestream on social media platforms on Nov. 21, from 9:30AM to 11:AM.

Prior to this, the Free Leila Committee also held a successful webinar on lawfare last Aug. 22 which encouraged the public and the government to act on the pervasive misuse of law in the country that stifles dissent and represses human rights. The groundbreaking event entitled “International Forum on Lawfare: Weaponizing the Law vs Democratic Dissent” last February 21 jumpstarted the discussion on lawfare. A portmanteau of the words “law” and “warfare”, lawfare depicts the weaponization of the law and legal processes against democratic dissent and other fundamental freedoms. (30)

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