Media groups in the Philippines on Monday praised United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan for visiting detained community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio.
Khan visited Cumpio, who is in jail along with church worker Marielle Domequil and human rights defender Alexander Abinguna, during her visit to Tacloban City on Jan. 27.
In her X account (formerly Twitter), Khan said, “We are only int’l visitors so far allowed by #Philippines govt to visit them! Arrested in Feb 2020, trial still dragging on. How long should they wait to be free?”
In a statement, Altermidya Network expressed optimism Khan’s visit “will draw attention not just on the unjust imprisonment of our colleague, Frenchie Mae, but on the overall dire state of free expression and opinion in the Philippines”.
The group called for the “end to threats and red-tagging against journalists and human rights defenders” and demanded accountability to “those who continue to incite violence and spread false information against journalists, critics, and citizens”.
In a separate statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) asserted that Cumpio and her co-accused should “not wait a minute longer” to be free, emphasizing that they are victims of fabricated charges.
The union claimed that evidence against them was planted, and testimonies were falsified, revealing a pattern of attacks on human rights defenders.
Cumpio was editor of the Eastern Vista news website when she was arrested in 2020 and charged with illegal possession of firearms in Tacloban City.
The young journalist has also anchored a local radio program in Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban DYVL.
Khan’s visit to Cumpio and other political detainees in Tacloban City prompted a response from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
In a statement, the anti-communist task force said Khan’s post in her X account is a “direct insult to the independence and the integrity of the Philippine judicial system and processes”.
Altermidya Network lambasted the government’s stance, saying that “if a simple observation by Khan on conditions faced by Cumpio is enough to upset” authorities, “then what does that say about the true state of free expression and press freedom in the country?”
“It seems that the only ‘direct insult’ was asking Khan to know her place in the country when it is the NTF-ELCAC and its dangerous mandate that has no room in the Philippines,” the group said.