Media groups in the Philippines protested the delay in the release of detained journalist Lady Ann Salem who was earlier arrested for alleged links to the communist underground movement.
Salem remains in detention two weeks after a regional trial court in the capital dismissed charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Raymond Villanueva of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the problem is the police “cannot accept the fact that it did not follow the due process” when they arrested Salem.
He said the government’s move to delay and block the release of the journalist “is a denial of justice” and “a desperate act to silence the media.”
Salem was one of seven people arrested in multiple dawn raids on Dec. 10, 2020, over alleged possession of illegal firearms and explosives.
On Feb. 5, a judge in the capital ruled that the search warrant issued against Salem was null and void because of its vagueness.
Philippine laws require search warrants to be specific to protect the rights of people against illegal search and seizures.
The court ruling made the firearms and explosives, which were allegedly taken from Salem’s possession during the raid, “inadmissible evidence” in court.
The judge also found “inconsistencies” in the affidavits and testimonies of the police informants, which were the basis of the search warrant.
The city prosecutor’s office, on behalf of the national police, opposed the motion of Salem’s counsel calling for her immediate release after the court’s ruling.
In a comment dated Feb. 9, Assistant Prosecutor Queruben Garcia said the prosecution will “seek relief” because the court’s “Order of Dismissal” has “yet to attain finality.”
“The order dismissing the charges against accused Salem remains subject to reconsideration or appeal, rendering improper her plea for immediate release,” said Garcia.
The Public Interest Law Center, Salem’s legal counsel, said the “Order of Dismissal” tantamount to an acquittal.
In its reply to the opposition of the prosecution, the lawyers’ groups said the trial court had already ruled that there were “not enough facts and circumstances” to prove an offense has been committed.
The law center argued that the “Order of Dismissal” operates as an acquittal for “it is a judgment based on evidence, and on the merits of the case, and thus final and unappealable.”
In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Philippine authorities must release Salem and “refrain from filing any new charges against her.”
Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said the government “should stop obstructing justice and immediately free” the journalist.
“[She] has already been wrongfully imprisoned for over two months, and her continued detention without charge is a crime against press freedom,” said Crispin.
Salem is editor of Manila Today and communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.