IFJ Demands No Interference in Maguindanao Massacre Trials

The International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) remains deeply worried about the risks of continuing

political interference in the trials of those accused of involvement in the

Maguindanao massacre in the southern Philippines last November, even as

the Philippines Government has reversed its contentious decision to drop

charges against two key suspects.

 

Yesterday, Acting Justice Secretary

Alberto Agra was quoted as saying that he is “now convinced insofar as Zaldy

Ampatuan and Akmad Ampatuan are concerned, that there is probable cause to

pursue the case against them,” according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

(NUJP), an IFJ affiliate.

 

His comments reverse his decision on

April 21 to drop murder charges against the pair for their alleged roles in the

murder of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Maguindanao

on November 23.

 

“The IFJ is outraged that Alberto Agra

sought to meddle in the charges against these two key suspects, and demands

that authorities in the Philippines ensure that charges relating to the pair –

and all other 194 suspects – be fairly tested in court without any political

interference,” IFJ Asia-Pacific

Director Jacqueline Park said.

 

Zaldy is Governor of the Autonomous

Region in Muslim Mindanao and a brother of Andal Ampatuan Jr, the main suspect

in the massacre. Akmad is Vice-Governor of Maguindanao and Andal’s cousin.

 

Those killed were travelling in

convoy to lodge candidacy papers for Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu to run for

Maguindanao governor against the Ampatuans.

 

According to a report from the NUJP, state prosecutors noted publicly that Agra’s

move to drop the charges could not have been based on consideration of the

extensive evidence presented against the two accused, and suggested political

interference in the judicial process.

 

In the tense lead-up to national and

presidential elections on May 10, the effort to drop the charges angered local

and international journalists’ organisations, which noted the Ampatuan family’s

support for the Government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and its involvement in

voting irregularities that benefited Arroyo in 2004 and 2007.

 

“As the election draws near, we further

call on all candidates and future power-holders to make a public pledge to take

full responsibility for ensuring justice is done, and seen to be done, and that

they end the culture of impunity for the killings of journalists in the Philippines,”

Park said.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide