Bangkok, February 17, 2021 – Philippine authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Lady Ann Salem and refrain from filing any new charges against her, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 5, the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court dismissed illegal firearms possession charges against Salem, editor of the Manila Today English-language news website, stating that police had improperly used contradictory witness testimony to obtain the search warrant that led to her arrest in December, according to news reports.
Salem’s lawyers petitioned the court for her immediate release from detention after the dismissal, but government prosecutors filed a motion opposing it; as of today, she remains jailed, according to news reports and Roy Barbosa, a Manila Today journalist who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
“Philippine authorities should stop obstructing justice and immediately free journalist Lady Ann Salem from prison,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Salem has already been wrongfully imprisoned for over two months, and her continued detention without charge is a crime against press freedom. She should be released without delay.”
Police arrested Salem on December 10, 2020, after claiming to have found illegal firearms including pistols, grenades, and ammunition at her residence in Mandaluyong, in metropolitan Manila, as CPJ documented at the time.
If convicted of possessing illegal firearms and ammunition, she could have faced 6 to 12 years in prison, according to the Philippine penal code.
Manila Today said in a statement that Salem was denied legal counsel during her arrest and was forced to turn her back during the police raid, which allegedly allowed authorities to “plant fake evidence such as firearms, ammunition and grenades.”
Salem, who also serves as a communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, a network of advocacy groups aimed at enhancing women’s role in media, has been held in pretrial detention since her arrest, according to Barbosa.
The Philippine Department of Justice did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.