[Statement] HRW calls for release of Cebu writer arrested for FB post

HRW calls for release of Cebu writer arrested for FB post

Human Rights Watch views with concern the arrest of Cebu City-based writer and actor Bambi Beltran, allegedly for violating the law on “false information.” Her arrest is a case of government officials misapplying the law. Her post on Facebook — “9,000 + new cases (all from Zapatera) of COVID-19 in Cebu City in one day. We are now the epicenter in the whole Solar System.” – is clearly commentary that was meant to be humorous. It was based on earlier official pronouncements that the whole community of Zapatera, which has a population of more than 9,000, has been deemed “contaminated” by the COVID-19 virus. While public officials dealing with COVID-19 are expected to feel stressed, overwhelmed, even aggrieved by criticism, misusing the law to violate freedom of expression is a disproportionate and wrong response. Nothing it what Beltran said can be legitimately construed as a hindrance to Cebu City’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Instead of arresting people for their thoughts, Cebu City officials should focus their attention on defeating COVID-19 and provide truthful, accurate information to the public. Citizens like Beltran have a right to express their opinions about what is happening; government officials should resist the temptation to act despotic in responding to those concerns.

Carlos Conde
Philippines researcher
Human Rights Watch

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