'Celdran verdict violates free speech'

Posted at 01/28/2013 5:05 PM | Updated as of 02/04/2013 11:38 AM

Human Rights Watch says provision in law vs Celdran is ‘archaic’

MANILA, Philippines -- The international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the guilty verdict issued against tour guide and artist Carlos Celdran.

HRW, which is based in several locations worldwide, immediately issued a statement after receiving news of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court decision finding Celdran “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” for “offending religious feelings.”

“This is a setback for free speech in the Philippines, which prides itself on being a democracy. This verdict should be reversed. Nobody should be jailed for voicing out an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers,” HRW said.

It also called for an amendment to the provision by which the penalty was anchored on.

“The government should ensure that pro-reproductive rights activists are not targeted using such archaic provisions of the Philippines’ Revised Penal Code (RPC). This case shows the potential for misuse and malicious prosecution and hence the need for urgent reform to this provision of the code,” the group said.

Celdran was found guilty for violating Article 133 of the RPC, which imposes a penalty upon someone “who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”

Bermejo ordered Celdran’s imprisonment of two months and 21 days up to one year, one month and 11 days.

In 2010, Celdran used a placard with the word “Damaso,” a character from Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere," and held it up in the middle of the mass at the Manila Cathedral.

Celdran is an advocate of reproductive health.