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Cebu-based writer nabbed for COVID-19 'fake news' named Freedom of Speech awardee

A Cebu-based writer, who was arrested for a satirical post, has been named one of the recipients of the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Awards amid coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Maria Victoria "Bambi" Beltran was arrested last month for allegedly posting fake news about the COVID-19 situation in Cebu City.

The entry in the list of awardees, the group stated that "On April 19, Cebu-based artist Maria Victoria Beltran was jailed for a satirical Facebook post she had published in relation to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City. The mayor called her post "fake news and a criminal act" and threatened Beltran with imprisonment."

Beltran had posted “9,000+ new cases (All from Zapatera) of Covid-19 in Cebu City in one day. We are now the epicenter in the whole Solar System.”

The post was uploaded after media reported that 53 residents of Sitio Zapatera -- with a population of 9,000 -- in Cebu City had tested positive for COVID-19 and a city health officer announced that infected cases do not have to be isolated because the entire sitio was considered infected.

FLAG statement on Beltran's arrest

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) led by lawyer Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno issued a statement condemning the arrest of Beltran.

“The charges against Miss Beltran, moreover, ignore the obvious. Ms. Beltran’s post is not fake news but satire," the group said.

FLAG lifted a part of a court decision on the case of The Diocese of Bacolod vs. Comelec, which stated that satire is "a literary form that employs such devices as sarcasm, irony and ridicule to deride prevailing vices or follies.. often used for political and social criticism because it tears down facades, deflates stuffed shirts, and unmasks hypocrisy... [which] frequently uses exaggeration, analogy, and other rhetorical devices."

Freedom of Speech 2020

This year, the awarding body has decided to recognize 17 journalists from 14 countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They represent all journalists worldwide who have disappeared or been arrested or threatened because of their reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic."

The Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award has been given annually since 2015 " to a person or initiative that has shown outstanding commitment to human rights and freedom of expression in the media." -- BAP, GMA News