UN rules against criminal libel in Philippines
The Center for International Law, a longstanding partner of MLDI, has won a ruling at the UN Human Rights Committee declaring the country's criminal libel law in violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Radio journalist Alex Adonis spent two years in prison for a broadcast in which he dramatized a newspaper report that Prospero Nograles, a member of the Philippines House of Representatives, had been seen running naked in a hotel - having been caught in bed by the husband of the woman with whom he was said to have spent the night with.
Nograles filed a criminal complaint against the journalist and, in a decision rendered in his absence, a local court convicted Adonis and sentenced him to prison. The Court considered that Adonis had committed a “malicious, arbitrary, abusive, irresponsible act of maligning the honor, reputation and good name of Congressman Nograles”.
The Philippines Center for International Law was notified of the case only after the verdict had been rendered and Adonis was in prison.
The Center took on his case and lodged a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, arguing that the imprisonment as well as the law under which Adonis was convicted violated his right to freedom of expression. They further argued that by convicting Adonis in his absence, his right to a fair trial had been breached.
In a landmark decision released today, the Committee agreed. It held that Adonis must be compensated for his time in prison, but also ordered the Philippines to review its libel laws and ensure that they comply with the requirements of international human rights law. The Committee furthermore emphasised that all States should revisite the need for criminal libel laws, and that imprisonment is never a permissible sanction.
Adonis's counsel, Professor Harry Roque of the Center for International Law, commented that this was a "big win for freedom of expression ... we expect the Philippine government to comply with the Committee’s views and proceed to decriminalize libel and to provide reparations to Adonis for time he spent in prison. No one should be imprisoned for expressing his or her views, full stop”.
The full decision can be downloaded by clicking here.