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Philippines 31 January 2008

A second radio journalist jailed for defamation

Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention of radio show host Julito Ucab, who has been held in Butuan City, on the southern island of Mindanao, since 22 January for failing to attend a court hearing on a defamation case dating back to 2004.

"After the jailing of Alex Adonis in Davao City, this is the second radio presenter to be detained in the Philippines as a result of a very questionable judicial procedure," the press freedom organisation said. "It is shocking that laws criminalizing defamation are still being applied. The United Nations have said very clearly that imprisoning a journalist for any length of time is disproportionate to the injury done to the plaintiff."

Ucab is being held in connection with a lawsuit brought against him in 2004 by an employee of the Butuan City architects office, Amado Jovellano, because a woman had accused Jovellano of rape on a programme hosted by Ucab on Butuan City’s radio DXBC.

Also known as "Lito," Ucab now lives and works in Cagayan de Oro City, also on Mindanao island, and has been unable to attend hearings in Butuan since 2006. Back then, the court granted him provisional liberty after he paid bail of 330 euros. But it finally issued an arrest warrant of the kind that does not admit the possibility of release on bail.

Cagayan de Oro press club president Jerry Orcullo said : "Journalists playing their role of society’s watchdogs do not deserve to be treated as common criminals." Ucab’s arrest is "clear proof of the brutal nature of the defamation law," he added.

On 25 January, the Supreme Court urged judges to sentence persons found guilty of defamation to fines rather than prison sentences.

Journalists continue to be exposed to abusive defamation actions in the Philippines. Adonis, a young journalist working for Bombo Radyo in Davao, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on 31 January 2007 for defaming Prospero Nograles, a parliamentarian and close ally of President Gloria Arroyo. He was convicted in absentia because he could not afford to pay for a lawyer or to attend all the hearings.

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