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Truth will set you free!

“The truth will set you free,” said Jesus in John 8:32. We are made for truth. Indeed, it is the highest expression of our human dignity that we seek, discover and contemplate truth. Yet, the world is scared of the truth, both in the time of Jesus and even in the present day. The leaders of the world seek to coerce, obstruct and suppress the truth, and they annihilate anyone who speaks the truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth,” and they silenced him. History repeats itself to this day.  
 
Regrettably, telling the truth is sometimes dangerous, especially when it threatens long-standing understandings of how things are “supposed” to be. Telling the truth or uncovering lies can lead powers-that-be to charge you with libel and sedition. This is the nightmare anyone who picks up media as one’s passion and profession undergoes for being truthful. People in authority stifle the media for fear of being exposed. The past 12 months have been particularly grim for press freedom in Southeast Asia. 
 
Media censorship makes bad governments less accountable. This time-tested principle is being cleverly applied in many of Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Southeast Asia may never have been a paragon of the free press. Even democratically elected governments have not left the press free for the fear of facing criticisms. Targeted financial inquiries have forced newspapers to shut down or compromise their independence. 
 
Till 2016 Cambodia’s press had unusually free reign, with some of the region’s best newspapers. But the situations have changed recently with the closure of The Cambodia Daily, for failing to pay $6.3 million in back taxes the government claimed it was owed. 
 
Rappler and Maria Ressa have become the examples of how governments can be a threat to free speech and criticisms even in a democracy like the Philippines. The online news platform, which was founded in 2012 and through the power of social media, has grown into the fourth biggest news website in the Philippines. Ressa’s role has won her plaudits around the world. She was among the journalists named Time Person of the Year 2018 as well as numerous other prestigious journalism awards.
 
Ressa now faces several lawsuits filed by government agencies aimed at shutting down her site for Rappler’s coverage of the drug war and the extra-judicial killings. She was arrested last week for alleged cyber-libel relating to a story published in 2012. 
 
The Myanmese government denies any atrocities in Rakhine state, where 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown. An entire portion of the state has been put on lockdown, United Nations’ investigators have been blocked, while aid workers and journalists are only given access on brief, state-chaperoned visits. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government dismisses independent reports as “fake news.”
 
Wa Lone and Kyaw See Ow, two journalists for Reuters, were jailed in Myanmar for investigative reporting into aspects of the persecution of the Rohingya. Suu Kyi defended the their sentencing. Much like the harassment seen in the Philippines, trolls on social media portray Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo as traitors for countering the official narrative. At least for the media, truth is no more liberating! 
 
Yet, it is only the body that can stifled, not the conscience. The truth sets your conscience free while fake news stifles your conscience. jose