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IFJ demands safety guarantee at Ampatuan massacre trials

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 8, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in calling on the Government of the Philippines to direct its authorities and security forces to ensure the protection of all involved in legal proceedings to prosecute suspects accused of the Ampatuan Town massacre.

The call came as the IFJ and its affiliate expressed concern about alleged threats against an interpreter and lawyer who had been assisting in the trial hearings into the massacre in Maguindanao, Mindanao, on November 23, 2009.

Thirty-two media personnel were among the 58 people killed. The trials are dealing with 57 counts of murder, as the body of Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay has not been found.

Rolando Abo, of the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos, tendered his resignation as interpreter to Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes on August 1, citing health reasons, according to the NUJP.

However, media reports say a principal accused, Andal Ampatuan Sr, allegedly threatened Abo during a trial hearing on July 28.

Judge Solis-Reyes postponed both hearings scheduled for last week after Abo was unable to attend due to ill health.

"Authorities tasked with providing protection to all involved in the massacre hearings - including witnesses, lawyers, families of the victims and others - must urgently investigate all allegations of threats and ensure appropriate security measures are provided to all those assisting the prosecution of the case," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

The IFJ supports the NUJP's call for local authorities, especially the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and other security forces, to act urgently to guarantee the safety of all involved in the proceedings.

The call follows a report that a BJMP detachment assigned to the Camp Bagong Diwa detention centre was relieved in June after prosecution lawyers and the families of the victims complained that the principal accused, including Ampatuan Sr, had been permitted undue privileges.

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