Key witness in Ampatuan massacre case shot dead

A witness in the massacre of 57 people, including 32 journalists, in Mindanao, Philippines was killed, media reports said.

Agence France Presse said Suwaib Upham was shot dead last week. Upham, who had admitted to be one of the gunmen, accused his former employers, the powerful Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao province, of orchestrating the slaying of key members of a rival clan and 32 journalists on 23 November 2009.

The “Philippine Daily Inquirer” quoted lawyer Harry Roque, who represents the families of several of the victims, said Upham’s killing might weaken the case against the Ampatuans.

“He was supposed to be one of our strongest witnesses,” Roque said. “He saw, and participated in, the killings and could have directly named in court those involved.”

A few months ago, the uncle of another witness was also shot dead in Mindanao.

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SEAPA (www.seapa.org) is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow if Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association; and the network’s Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Centre for Independent Journalism.