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UN Special Rapporteur Khan urges speedy trial or ‘dismiss charges’ against jailed young journalist

Updated: Feb. 2, 2024, 9:38pm

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Irene Khan expressed hope that the Philippine government would either provide a swift trial or drop the charges filed against Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

In a press briefing on Feb. 2, the final day of her official visit, Khan emphasized to authorities that the prolonged detention of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who has been held on terrorism charges for four years, is a case of “justice delayed is justice denied”.

“I hope, after my visit, the government authorities will look into those cases, review the case and dismiss the charges. Or, bring them to trial rapidly with full due process so that it can be decided whether or not they are guilty,” Khan told reporters.

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?”

The UN envoy described Cumpio as a young adult “in high spirits,” adding, “I was very impressed. I was, it was almost inspiring to see these young people, three young people arrested at the age of 21, still languishing in prison.” 

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Cumpio, who turned 25 on Jan. 23, 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 said that leaving Cumpio and other young political prisoners to languish in prison “sends a terrible message for the youth of this country”. 

UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan (second from left) with staff and the three political detainees at the Tacloban District Jail on Friday. (Ms. Irene Khan’s X post)

Media group lauds Khan’s stance

Altermidya Network commended Khan’s visit to Cumpio despite facing criticism from certain government agencies. The network stressed that Khan’s activities during her visit conveyed a crucial message, underscoring that “democracy falters when those tasked with uncovering the truth are jailed, harassed, or killed”.

“The use of colonial-era laws like libel to harass journalists, the illegal confiscation of publications, and the blocking of websites are among the ways the state has sought to silence critical voices,” said the network in a statement.

For the network, Khan’s statement during the press briefing sent a “critical concern” that there is a manipulation of legal mechanisms to suppress those brave enough to reveal the truth.

“The continued detention of Frenchie Mae and the incessant attacks on community journalists and alternative media outlets highlight an environment where free expression is perilously under threat,” the network said. 

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).

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 strongly criticized the government’s stance, asserting that “if a mere observation by Khan regarding the conditions faced by Cumpio is sufficient to agitate” authorities, “then what does that reveal about the true state of free expression and press freedom in the country?”

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