THE first year of Senator Leila de Lima’s incarceration in a Filipino prison has been marked by both a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement from the president’s office, and a call from international human rights groups for her release.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement on Saturday: “On the one year anniversary of Senator Leila de Lima’s incarceration, let me first greet Senator Leila de Lima a happy anniversary.”
De Lima, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, has been detained since Feb 24, 2017 for her alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice minister in the previous administration.
The senator has denied the allegations, saying they are trumped up and “politically motivated” due to her criticism of the Duterte administration and her involvement in a Senate probe into alleged unlawful killings during his deadly anti-drugs campaign.
Human rights groups have marked the anniversary of de Lima’s incarceration by calling for an end to her imprisonment. Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia reiterated their call for her immediate and unconditional release.
“Senator de Lima’s unjust and politically motivated imprisonment continues to exemplify the grave threats to Philippine democracy that exist today, as well as the dire state of human rights in the country as a whole,” said Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.
“Her detention is a preposterous abuse of the criminal justice system, which only serves to undermine the rule of law in the Philippines. Senator de Lima is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately,” he said.
Since her arrest, de Lima has remained in detention, awaiting trial. From her prison cell, she remains a vocal voice in the campaign against Duterte.
In February, she dared the president to allow an independent investigation into the “human rights violations and abuses incessantly happening under his regime,” calling for a United Nations-led probe into his drug war.
She has also mocked Duterte’s handling of Beijing in the ongoing dispute over the South China Sea, calling the president a “Chinese Governor.”
— Kiko Pangilinan (@kikopangilinan) February 22, 2018
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT), which falls under the EU, said the charges against de Lima were “fabricated” and a direct retaliation for her criticism of Duterte.
“De Lima’s prosecution reflects the increasingly difficult environment that human rights defenders face in the Philippines under President Duterte,” OMCT Secretary-General Gerald Staberock said in a statement.
One year but still no justice. Senator Leila #DeLima did nothing wrong—she simply called out human rights violations in Duterte’s “war on drugs.” #Philippines authorities must #FreeLeilaNow. 🕯✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/Mk8WxW6spP
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) February 23, 2018
Amnesty International also called for the senator’s immediate release, calling the charges “politically motivated”. Amnesty’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific James Gomez said, “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.”