Philippines gags internet with ‘draconian’ cyber crime law

An office worker browses an on-line pharmacy in Manila.(AFP Photo / Jay Directo)

The Philippines has approved measures to prosecute users that post “defamatory” comments on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. They will be liable for a fine of 1 million pesos (US$24,000) or face up to 12 years in prison.

Websites that publish the material may also be shut down.

The cyber-law has been branded as ‘draconian’ and a serious violation of freedom of speech by rights groups.

“The cyber crime law needs to be repealed or replaced,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of the Human Rights Watch. “It violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression and it is wholly incompatible with the Philippine government’s obligations under international law.”

He stressed that while the bill was in action it will have a “chilling effect over the entire Philippines online community.”

The new legislation extends Philippines libel law, which has been previously contested by Human Rights Watch, into cyberspace.

Aside from prosecuting users who post material deemed offensive, the bill grants authorities the power to collate and retain information from people’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as eavesdropping on conversations over Skype.

“Anybody using popular social networks or who publishes online is now at risk of a long prison term should a reader – including government officials – bring a libel charge,” Adams said. “Allegedly libelous speech, online or off-line, should be handled as a private civil matter, not as a crime.”

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