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SC allows UN expert to act as 'friend of the court' in Maria Ressa's cyber libel plea

MANILA, Philippines — Irene Khan, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion, has been allowed by the Supreme Court (SC) to sit as an "amicus curiae" to the court in the appeal for the cyber libel case of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos.

In a resolution dated Jan. 24, 2024, reported by Rappler, the SC granted Khan's motion to appear as an expert in the case to which it also admitted her amicus brief.

An "amicus curiae", also known as a "friend of a court," is an "experienced and impartial" adviser to the court.

An amicus brief, on the other hand, is a document which may help the high court decide on the case.

In 2022, a Manila court has convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over the case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng, a decision which was also affirmed by the Court of Appeals in the same year. This prompted the Nobel laureate and the former Rappler researcher to appeal to the high court.

In Khan's brief, according to the report, she said that she is "concerned" that the law in the country fails to adequately protect the right to freedom of expression, citing Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the Philippines is a member.

Article 19 of the said covenant says:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

The UN rapporteur also cited the country's anti-cybercrime law which "raises serious concerns that it limits the