Human rights group calls for release of teacher arrested over 'seditious' Facebook post

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 29) A human rights group calls for the release of the teacher detained over an allegedly seditious Facebook post, tagging the arrest a “crackdown on dissent” by the government.

In a statement, Karapatan denounced the government’s “militarist response” to the COVID-19 outbreak, which on Friday resulted in the warrantless arrest of 55-year-old public school teacher Juliet Espinosa and her son.

Espinosa is now facing sedition charges after allegedly publishing a Facebook post urging residents without food to raid the gym in Brgy. Lagao, where relief goods are reportedly kept.

The post was published under an account with a different name, “Yet Rodriguez Enosencio”. It contained criticism against the local government’s lack of appropriate response to the health crisis, which the user said is resulting in the starvation of residents.

Espinosa’s son was also arrested for reportedly resisting his mother’s arrest. He will face charges for violating Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code or resistance or disobedience to a person of authority.

Karapatan called the arrest “overkill,” arguing that the teacher was simply airing her “legitimate grievances”. It also maintained that the people have the right “to criticize the government’s incompetence and demand services.”

“The lack or inadequacy of socio-economic measures in the imposition of quarantine measures in the country is driving people to unbearable degrees of mass hunger,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

“Yet, true to the Duterte government’s militarist framework, instead of responding to the people’s legitimate demands, the government moved quickly to squash dissent."

The group said that Espinosa is not alone in her sentiments, adding that "the poor, street vendors, tricycle and jeepney drivers, the homeless, workers, and farmers are grumbling at this regime’s callousness to the people’s suffering."

It also warned against the emergency powers recently given to President Rodrigo Duterte, which it said allows the State to “arbitrarily define and penalize fake news”.

The new law, which grants the President additional powers to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, includes a provision punishing those who create or spread false information about the crisis. Under the law, violators may face a two-month jail sentence or a fine of ₱10,000 to ₱1 million.

Earlier, a Cavite town mayor and two other people have been charged for allegedly spreading fake COVID-19 reports.

“It has happened in Cebu and in General Santos City — it won’t be long before arresting critics for online posts becomes a national policy that could throw us back to the dark days of Marcosian martial rule,” Palabay said.

“However, if the government thinks that arresting the hungry and the poor will squash dissent, it is gravely mistaken. By continuing its militarist policy that neglects the people’s concerns and meeting them with violence and repression, the regime only exacerbates unrest,” she added.