By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA – International media organizations and the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication joined the call for the immediate release of journalist Lady Ann Salem from detention.
In a statement, Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, “Authorities should immediately release journalist Lady Ann Salem, drop any pending charges in her case, and stop harassing journalists for bogus weapons violations.”
Salem, along with labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago, was arrested December 10 during a police raid in her home in Mandaluyong City. She was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Salem belied police’s claims, saying, “We had our backs turned for about an hour while they planted evidence.”
The CPJ added, “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government must cease and desist treating journalists as criminals.”
Nine days before Salem’s arrest, Salem’s media outfits Manila Today and Tudla Productions were among the members of the AlterMidya network, which were labeled as part of the “communist propaganda machinery” by the National Task Force to End the Local Armed Conflict during the Senate hearing last December 1.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) decried “the ongoing harassment of journalists in the Philippines on baseless links to political parties or ‘red tagging’.”
IFJ said red-tagging “is the tactic of choice used by the powers that be to try shut down, intimidate and silence journalists.”
“But the media community have not and will not be deterred by such blunt and arcane attempts. The IFJ condemns the climate of intimidation that makes a mockery of the state and system by use of these tactics which are completely unacceptable by global standards,” IFJ said.
The International Association of Women on Radio and Television (IAWRT), in which Icy also works as the communications officer, condemned the arrest.
“The circumstances around Salem’s arrest and her continuing detention is a clear breach of international human rights and an alarming development in the dire situation that journalists and press freedom advocates continue to face in the Philippines,” IAWRT President Violet Gonda said.
Salem’s lawyer Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers criticized the Philippine National Police for violating the rights of her client. Conti said Salem was held incommunicado for 36 hours, denied access to lawyers, and was shuttled from one police station to another. It was only on December 11 that Conti had the chance to talk to Salem.
Support from UP
The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Student Council also held a press conference this morning to demand the release of Salem.
UP Professor Danilo Arao recalled that Salem was a proactive student during her college days.
“Icy is no criminal,” said Arao. “There is no law that criminalizes critical reporting about the situation of the marginalized community.”
Arao likened Salem’s arrest to the case of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, the executive director of Eastern Vista, another alternative news outfit, who was arrested in February this year, and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. She remains detained until today.
UP Diliman Student Council President Froilan Cariaga said that the fight to defend press freedom is not exclusive to journalists and media workers but must also involve the public.
“We should remember that the truth reported by our journalists are the truth and the reality of the Filipino people,” said Cariaga.