Concerns regarding the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

Press release

Open Letter
H.E. Benigno Aquino III
President, Republic of the Philippines
Malacañang Palace
J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila, NCR, 1005

Paris, 10 October 2012

Subject: Concerns regarding the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

Your Excellency,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) commends the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision on 9 October to suspend the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, also known as Republic Act 10175, which had taken effect on 3 October.

However, we still believe that, by referring to Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, the Act too broadly extends the offense of criminal defamation to activities committed through a computer system. The Act is also loophole-ridden and as such it represents a threat to freedom of expression in the Philippines.

We understand that, pursuant to these provisions, the Department of Justice will have the power to close down websites and monitor online activities in the absence of a judicial decision, violating due process guarantees. Posting on the Internet, whether or not the post advocates for violence, would be punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment, which is disproportionate and in any case opposed to international human rights standards.

We fear that the Act may sanction the judicial harassment of those criticizing Government officials and State agencies, in particular human rights defenders who criticize the authorities for their human rights record. Indeed, human rights defenders who expose such abuses via online platforms have often been harassed in the past. In 2007, journalist Alexander Adonis was imprisoned for two years on “defamation” charges.

In his annual report to the UN General Assembly in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stressed that “as a general rule, there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information on the Internet, except under a few, very exceptional and limited circumstances prescribed by international law for the protection of other human rights”.

The Special Rapporteur also recommended that if restrictions are imposed, States must “provide full details regarding the necessity and justification for blocking a particular website, and determination of what content should be blocked should be undertaken by a competent judicial authority or a body which is independent of any political, commercial, or other unwarranted influences to ensure that blocking is not used as a means of censorship”.

International law imposes a high threshold over the types of expression that could be legitimately restricted, such as incitement to racial hatred, identity theft, or child pornography, but restrictions on expressions and opinions on the mere ground that they are critical of the government or objectionable to prevailing social norms are not compatible with Philippines’ obligation under international law to protect freedom of expression.

Over the past years, the Government of Philippines has expanded the number of acts in which a person could be imprisoned and criminally charged for defamation. We therefore call on you to reverse this trend, and thoroughly consult civil society groups until the next oral arguments scheduled by the Supreme Court on 15 January 2013.

Thank you in advance for your serious consideration of our concerns and recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Souhayr Belhassen,
FIDH President

Read more