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Harassment by provincial authorities could send newspaper editor back to prison

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is concerned by a local politician's harassment of Joaquin Briones, the editor of a weekly in the central province of Masbate. Freed on parole in 2005 after serving five years in prison on criminal defamation charges, he could be sent to back to prison for parole violation as a result of new lawsuits brought by the provincial vice governor and an ally.

"All the legal actions brought against Briones are very disturbing and constitute an abuse of authority by local politicians and officials," Reporters Without Borders said. "Of late, when journalists are not being murdered in the Philippines, they are being hounded by powerful cliques who cannot tolerate any form of criticism."

Briones, the editor of the "Masbate Tribune", told Reporters Without Borders that five libel suits against him have been transferred to local courts by the Masbate City prosecutor's office. Two of the suits were brought by vice-governor Vince Revil as a result of Briones' criticism of him in connection with a coal-fired power plant and the alleged hiring of ghost employees.

The other three lawsuits were filed by the Masbate Electric Cooperative, whose legal adviser is also the vice-governor's lawyer and his uncle. Briones has asked for the lawsuits to be declared inadmissible, but he suspects that his request will be rejected by local judges who support the vice-governor.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the vice-governor has written to the parole board citing the libel suits as grounds for revoking Briones' parole.

The situation of journalists has deteriorated in recent months in the Philippines. Four have been murdered since the start of the year and, according to local press reports, journalists have also been the targets of police violence while covering demonstrations.

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"...another deeply disturbing demonstration of the government’s determined efforts to cow Rappler into silence."…

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