Philippines: Detained Duterte critic must be freed immediately
The Philippines authorities must immediately drop all charges and release prisoner of conscience Senator Leila de Lima, an outspoken critic of President Duterte who has been jailed on politically motivated drug charges, Amnesty International said ahead of the anniversary of her arrest.
Senator Leila de Lima was arrested on 24 February 2017 on three separate spurious charges under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. In the lead up to her arrest, President Duterte and other supporters had led a vicious campaign of harassment and intimidation against the Senator and falsely tried to implicate her in the drug trade.
The charges against Senator Leila de Lima are pure fiction. She has been singled out and targeted for nothing but her courageous opposition to President Duterte’s appalling policies.
“The charges against Senator Leila de Lima are pure fiction. She has been singled out and targeted for nothing but her courageous opposition to President Duterte’s appalling policies. We consider her to be a prisoner of conscience and urge the authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Senator de Lima has long been an outspoken critics of President Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs”, in which police have unlawfully killed thousands of people, mainly from poor and marginalised communities. Senator de Lima drew the government’s ire by calling for accountability for police and senior officials, including the President, and by leading Senate inquiries into the carnage.
In 2012, as Chair of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, the Senator also carried out an inquiry into Duterte’s involvement in extrajudicial executions while he was the mayor of Davao City, which recommended that the Office of the Ombudsman investigated him. In 2016, President Duterte told media that he wanted to “destroy her in public.”
De Lima’s legal team has raised serious concerns about the lack of evidence to support the charges against her. Authorities also seem to have taken punitive measures against her in detention.
She is being held in the police headquarters in Camp Crane, Quezon City, where she has been refused access to the internet, a mobile phone or a radio or TV. Police have also ignored a request from her doctor to install an air conditioning unit in her cell.
“It is a sad state of affairs when the Philippines government is more interested in jailing critics than preventing police from killing thousands of mainly poor people. This is clearly an attempt to try and crush the spirit of a brave and consummate activist and send a clear warning to those who dare shine a light on the murderous actions of Duterte,” said James Gomez.
The anniversary of Senator Lima’s arrest takes place as the Philippines government has intensified a wider crackdown on critics in media and civil society.
In January, the government ordered the closure of the independent online media outlet Rappler in another blatantly politically motivated attack on the right to freedom of expression. Observers have also accused the Duterte government of pressuring the owners of The Inquirer – one of the country’s most influential independent media outlets – to sell the paper to new owners with close ties to the administration.
President Duterte has also threatened other human rights defenders in public. In August 2017, he encouraged police to shoot rights activists who were “obstructing justice” or to charge them with conspiracy. The President has also singled out other national and international critics, including the current Chair of the Human Rights Commission, Chito Gascon as well as Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in vicious verbal tirades.
“It is becoming more and more dangerous in the Philippines to speak out against the Duterte government, and in particular its murderous drug policies. It is high time for the international community, including the UN, to apply stronger pressure on the government and support an international investigation into the Philippines,” said James Gomez.