[Statement] Human Rights Watch on “fake news” provision of Bayanihan law

Human Rights Watch statement on Section 6 (6) of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” signed by President Duterte on March 24, 2020:

Section 6 (6) of the law punishes “individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion.”

This provision of the law is overbroad and can easily be misused by Philippine authorities to crack down on online criticism of government efforts. Given the Duterte administration’s well-documented hostility towards freedom of the press and online critics, this law could be used to criminalize any online information the government dislikes. Instead of seeking to shut down online information the Duterte administration should respect the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Rather than abusing people’s free speech rights, the Duterte administration should focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.

The Philippines has international obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds. Governments are responsible for providing information necessary for protecting and promoting rights, including the right to health. Permissible restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of public health may not put in jeopardy the right itself.

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