IMS gravely concerned by journalist’s arrest, ‘red-tagging’ of media and activists in the Philippines

IMS views with grave concern the arrest of Filipino journalist Lady Ann ‘Icy’ Salem, echoing fear in the Philippines that authorities are demonizing and harassing activists and journalists to stifle criticism and dissent.

On 10 December 2020, Philippine authorities arrested journalist Lady Ann ‘Icy’ Salem on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, an allegation that rights groups believe is fabricated

Philippine media and legal rights advocates are calling for her immediate release. They say she is being denied due process, and is but the latest victim in a rising government campaign to demonize Filipino activists and journalists by recklessly and baseless tagging them as communists and terrorists.

News reports note that upon her arrest, Ms. Salem was denied her right to access legal counsel. On the occasion of International Human Rights Day (December 10th. ) she was arrested along with six trade unionists; human rights groups have asked the Supreme Court to review the grounds for which the arrest warrants were issued.

Ms. Salem is an editor at alternative online media publisher Manila Today that is affiliated with the independent media network AlterMidya that she co-founded in 2014. Ms. Salem is also a communications officer for the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.

The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication from which she graduated, and which helped establish AlterMidya in 2014, called Ms. Salem a respected alumna whose integrity as a journalist has never been in question. She is also a former officer of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

All of these legitimate and respected organisations have vouched for Ms. Salem as nothing less, and nothing more, than a professional journalist affiliated with legitimate news organisations and associations. And yet, less than two weeks before her arrest, the entire AlterMidya was casually tagged by a military task force as a communist front, suggesting further that it is a terrorist group. While there has been no offered evidence of any such links, Philippine officials’ increasing penchant for such “red-tagging” is reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous. When amplified by no less than the highest ranking enforcers of government and the law  they inevitably compromise any guarantees of due process. Red-tagging victims, meanwhile, are vulnerable to outright attacks, physically or online, and become fodder for legal, social, and community harassment. Over recent months, that tactic has been used against many activists, civil societ organisations, journalists, media groups – and even entire news industry associations such as the NUJP.

Ms. Salem’s arrest is but the latest proof that red-tagging amounts to more than idle words and statements and directly leads to threats against life and liberty.

Legal advocates and journalist groups in the Philippines have called for her release, and IMS joins in demanding that her rights and the due process guaranteed by the Philippines Constitution be upheld and respected.

IMS furthermore calls for an end to the deadly practice of red-tagging in the Philippines—the labelling of groups or individuals perceived to be critical of the government as ‘’communists’’ or ‘’terrorists’’. Red-tagged victims become targets of arbitrary arrests and detentions, like Ms. Salem by her affiliation with recently red-tagged AlterMidya, and in other cases, victims are harassed, threatened and, in the gravest cases, murdered for their legitimate criticism of the policies and practices of the Government of the Philippines.