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NEW ANTI-TERROR LAW CHALLENGED IN COURT

More than 20 petitions have been filed before the Philippines Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of a new anti-terror law that came into effect on 15 July, reports the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

The Human Security Act, passed by the Philippine Congress in February and signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in March, includes provisions for phone tapping suspects and detaining them for three days without charge. According to Human Rights Watch, the overly broad definition of terrorism - acts that "create a widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the population" - could allow the government to "transform less serious offences, such as vandalism or legitimate acts of protest, into crimes punishable by a mandatory 40-year sentence."

Despite government assurances that the law will not be used against political opponents or dissidents, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) says it remains unclear whether journalists will be considered accessories to terrorism if they interview or report the statements of terror suspects. The government has yet to issue rules on how the law should be used.

"We are concerned that the broad and vaguely defined measures of this law could be employed to harass journalists, particularly those covering violent crime, terrorism and conflict in the Philippines," says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "If the government cannot give an unqualified assurance that this law will not be used to inhibit the work of the press, then it should be repealed."

The Supreme Court has ordered President Arroyo to comment on the petitions, which were filed by various organisations and individuals, reports CMFR. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Counter Terrorism has also called for the law to be amended or repealed because much of it does not meet international human rights standards.

According to IFJ, President Arroyo, a vocal supporter of the US-led war on terrorism, insists the law is necessary to combat al-Qaeda-linked militants who have allegedly blown up passenger buses, telecommunications towers and power lines in the country. "It is a weapon that shall be wielded against bombers and not protesters," she said.

Visit these links:
- CMFR: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/85068/
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2007/asia/phil18july07na.html
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/2mhh93
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5155&Language=EN
(31 July 2007)

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