Jose Rizal was killed for opposing the Spanish colonial government. The Spanish decided that his words and actions amounted to disrespect, and that his writing incited rebellion. So they silenced him. They took his life away because he dared to defy those who would oppress him and the Filipino people.
Recently, newly elected President Duterte stated that many journalists slain in the Philippines deserved it.
He said that freedom of speech should not protect journalists who “disrespect” the people they write about.
Many people will see this as part of Duterte’s firm stance against crime and corruption. Yet my fear is that such viewpoints will only encourage more corruption. A limit on free speech is a scary thing. A nation which inhibits the free exchange of ideas and opinions only limits progress.
The Philippines is one of the most deadly countries for journalists, with 77 having been killed in the past 24 years. Duterte says, however, that most journalists who have died have only themselves to blame: “You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong,” he claims.
The United Nations takes a different stance, with Cristof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitary executions saying that Duterte’s statement “amounts to incitement to violence and killing,” and that his comments “are irresponsible in the extreme, and unbecoming of any leader, let alone someone who is to assume the position of the leader of a country that calls itself democratic.”
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom opinion and expression, David Kaye, says that “justifying the killing of journalists on the basis of how they conduct their professional activities can be understood as a permissive signal to potential killers that the murder of journalists is acceptable in certain circumstances and would not be punished.”
As a writer, I am wary. Who decides what constitutes “disrespect”? Will this encourage vigilantes to roam the streets? Kaye warns that, “Such provocative messages indicate to any person who is displeased by the work of a journalist or an activist, for example, that they can attack or kill them without fear of sanction.”
I support a Philippines that emphasizes safety and attempts to rid itself of crime. But let us not mistake free speech for crime. Let us not become so fearful of criminal activity that we trade freedom for security.