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Key figure accused in journalist massacre released on bail in the Philippines

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 10 March 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) are outraged by the release of one of the key figures accused of involvement in the Ampatuan Massacre, which saw 58 people including 32 journalists brutally murdered in 2009 – the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.

On March 9 Sajid Ampatuan was released on bail after he posted a surety bond of PHP11.6 million (USD 262,321). Sajid is the son of clan patriarch and co-accused Andal Ampatuan Snr. It is alleged Sajid was present at the meetings during which the massacre was planned. At the time of the massacre, Sajid was allegedly acting Maguindanao governor.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes granted bail and ordered Sajid to be immediately released from detention. The IFJ and NUJP urge Leila De Lima, the Secretary for the Justice Department to review the decision to grant bail. She says has already given orders for public prosecutors to address the situation. In a text message she said: "I already gave instructions to the panel thru Prosecutor General Claro Arellano to avail of the proper remedy ASAP."

NUJP chairperson Rowena Paraan said: "We demand the DOJ (Department of Justice) get to the bottom of this and move quickly to repair the damage lest a miscarriage of justice in this case be added to the long litany of sins against press freedom and justice this administration has committed."

The IFJ Asia Pacific deputy director Jane Worthington said: "The granting of bail to a key accused in the brutal massacre is an outrageous denial of justice for the victims and families. The judiciary and justice department in the Philippines continue to say they are working for justice, yet their actions in this matter appear to tell another story."

In November 2014, the IFJ and NUJP led an international solidarity mission to the Philippines to mark the fifth anniversary of the massacre and investigate the progression of the criminal cases. The mission released a report, Ampatuan Massacre: Five Years On which details the current situation facing journalists in the Philippines and the urgent need for multilateral action as the slow pace of the enormous trial drags into its fifth year.

The report detailed a number of recommendations to end the culture of impunity in the Philippines and bring justice to victims of the massacre. The report noted that the continual granting of bail seems to validate fears that many of the accused will be released as a result of weak evidence.

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