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ASEAN MPs renew call for immediate release of Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima

24/02/2019

ASEAN MPs renew call for immediate release of Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima

JAKARTA – On the eve of the second anniversary of Philippine Senator Leila de Lima’s imprisonment, parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today expressed grave concern over her continued detention on trumped-up charges and reiterated their call for her immediate release.

“The two years Senator de Lima has spent languishing in prison serve as a dark reminder of President Duterte’s zero-tolerance for scrutiny and the eroding state of democracy and human rights in the Philippines. The charges against her fly in the face of justice and the Philippine government must end its judicial harassment against her without further delay,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

On 24 February 2017, Sen. de Lima, a member of APHR, was arrested on charges related to drug trafficking (Sections 3 and 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act). These have since been amended by the Department of Justice to conspiracy to traffic drugs (Section 26(b) of the same law). Her case has been marred by significant delays – it took approximately 18 months before she was arraigned in one of her three cases – and to date, four judges have inhibited themselves from hearing her case.

Senator de Lima has been one of the most vocal critics of President Duterte’s deadly crackdown against those allegedly involved in illegal drugs. Before her arrest, she was leading a Senate investigation into the President’s so-called ‘war on drugs’. In 2009, as Chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, she led a separate inquiry into President Duterte’s alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings when he was mayor in Davao City.

“It’s clear that the charges against her are politically motivated. Her prolonged and unjust imprisonment has been nothing but an attempt to deliberately silence Senator de Lima’s efforts, which were focused on important matters of public interest,” added Charles Santiago.

In November 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that her imprisonment “lacks a legal basis” and is a form of reprisal due to her human rights work in the Philippines. The Working Group also urged the Philippine government to take steps to remedy the situation, including compensation and reinstatement of positions she was ousted from.

The Southeast Asian MPs noted with concern that thousands of people have been killed in the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines with an almost complete lack due process and independent investigations.

“Senator de Lima’s only ‘crime’ was trying to end the bloody anti-drug campaign unleashed under the current government. The Philippine people need more champions for justice like the Senator. As she continues her fight behind bars, she can rest assured that her regional peers are standing in solidarity with her and will keep raising her case until the day she walks free again,” concluded Charles Santiago.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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