MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Media groups and Filipinos stepped up calls Wednesday for repealing a tough new law that targets cybercrime but activists fear will be used to suppress online freedoms in the Southeast Asian nation.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act took effect Wednesday despite last-minute petitions to the Supreme Court to stop it. The justices said they will take up the issue next week.
The law is envisioned as a measure against hacking, identity theft, spamming, cybersex and online child pornography. But citizens and groups who protested on social networking sites, blogs and out in the streets fear politicians will use it to silence critics.
The law contains a provision that says libel — which is already punishable by up to six years in prison — is also a cybercrime. It doubles cumulative penalties for online offenses and allows government agencies to search, seize and destroy computer data deemed libelous.
Human rights and media groups have unsuccessfully campaigned for years to downgrade libel from a criminal to a civil offense, saying politicians often use the law to harass journalists and other critics.
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's husband sued 46 investigative journalists and publishers in more than 50 libel cases from 2003 to 2007 but later dropped them in a "gesture of peace."
The journalists wrote stories alleging Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo was corrupt, which he denied. He is now facing two corruption cases linked to an overpriced government deal and the sale of secondhand helicopters to police.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said that the new law's criminal libel provision "and the insidious way it was inserted during the bicameral deliberation — without benefit of public consultation — are direct strikes at the rights to free expression and press freedom."
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