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COVID-19 posts: Human rights lawyers denounce ‘fake news’ arrest of resto owner

By: - Senior Reporter / @inquirervisayas
/ 08:22 PM April 20, 2020

CEBU CITY—A national association of human rights lawyers denounced the arrest of a poet and scriptwriter who has been accused of spreading false information about the surging cases of the novel coronavirus (CoVID-19) here.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), in a statement, said there was nothing wrong in the controversial Facebook post of Maria Victoria Beltran.

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“Beltran’s Facebook post is not fake news or false information,” said NUPL.

“It merely restates the city health office’s official declaration that Sitio Zapatera is ‘presumed contaminated,’” the group added.

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“She did not say that the ‘9,000+’ representing the sitio population are confirmed cases of COVID-19,” said lawyer Josalee Dienla, spokesperson of NUPL.

“As far as I know, it did not incite any of the lawless actions that our penal laws prohibit,” the lawyer said.

“It did not endanger public order or encourage disobedience to the law or authorities. Neither is it defamatory. Hence, it is protected speech,” she added.

Beltran was arrested by police past 2 a.m. on Sunday (April 19) inside Kukuk’s Nest, a restaurant she owns, at the village of Lahug, Cebu City.

The arrest came just a few hours after Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella threatened to put her in prison for allegedly spreading lies.

Last week, Beltran posted on her Facebook account that more than 9,000 people were infected with coronavirus in Sitio Zapatera, Barangay Luz in Cebu City.

Her post read: “9,000 + new cases (all from Zapatera) of COVID-19 in Cebu City in one day. We are now the epicenter in the whole Solar System.”

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Labella, in his own post on Facebook, considered Beltran’s remarks as fake news.

Dienla, the NUPL spokesperson, said instead of improving efforts to fight COVID-19 in Zapatera, the mayor chose to be vindictive and punish Beltran for exercising her freedom of expression.

“The incidence of muzzling critics and dissenters with trumped-up criminal charges is alarming and further exposes this government’s tyranny,” Dienla said.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, this weaponization of the law becomes more lethal in times of discontent,” she said.

Public officials like the mayor, according to Dienla, “ought to be reminded that freedom of expression belongs as well, if not more, to those who question and who differ.”

“For this right to be meaningful, it should allow the articulation even of unorthodox and hostile views, or those that provoke others to anger,” Dienla said.

As of April 20, Cebu City has 166 cases of COVID-19, 136 of which came from Sitio Zapatera at Barangay Luz.

Edited by TSB

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