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HRW calls for repeal of 'cybercrime' law

New legislation hands govt 'excessive and unchecked powers,' rights group claims reporter, Manila

September 28, 2012

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Human Rights Watch today called on the government to scrap a new "cybercrime" law which came into force on September 12. The New-York based rights group says the new law "drastically increases punishments for criminal libel and gives authorities excessive and unchecked powers" to shut down websites and monitor online information. The "Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012," defines several new acts of “cybercrime,” including “cybersex,” online child pornography, illegal access to computer systems or hacking, online identity theft, and spamming. A section on libel specifies that criminal libel, already detailed in the Philippines Revised Penal Code, will now apply to acts “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.” The new law drastically increases the penalties for computer-related libel, with the minimum punishment raised ten-fold, from six months to six years. The maximum punishment is doubled from six to 12 years in prison. HRW Asia director, Brad Adams, said the penalties and other restrictions are a serious threat to freedom of expression. "It violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression and it is wholly incompatible with the Philippine government’s obligations under international law," Adams said in a statement from New York. Several cases have already been filed in the Supreme Court, including for the law to be declared unconstitutional because it violates guarantees for free expression contained in the charter and human rights treaties ratified by the government. “The cybercrime law needs to be repealed or replaced,” said Adams. He said anybody using social networking sites or who publishes online is now at risk of a lengthy prison term should a reader file a libel charge. HRW and media groups have long called for the government to scrap the existing criminal libel law. Several journalists have been imprisoned for libel in recent years, blemishing the country’s press freedom record. In the case of Davao City radio journalist Alexander Adonis, who was convicted in 2007 of libel and spent two years in prison, the United Nations Human Rights Council determined that the government violated Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with regard to the right to freedom of expression and opinion. The committee called on the government to decriminalize libel. Related reports Senator seeks prison ban for libel 
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