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On 5th anniversary of detention, Southeast Asian MPs repeat calls for Senator De Lima’s immediate release

24/02/2022

On 5th anniversary of detention, Southeast Asian MPs repeat calls for Senator De Lima’s immediate release

JAKARTA – Half a decade after her arbitrary arrest, Southeast Asian parliamentarians have renewed their calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Leila De Lima, Philippine Senator and a member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

Senator De Lima has now spent the vast majority of her six-year term as Senator unjustly detained in prison, seemingly targeted for attempting to hold authorities to account,” said Charles Santiago, APHR Chair and a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP). “She continues to faithfully perform her duties as a legislator, despite being incarcerated, and serves as a voice to defend and protect victims of human rights abuses. We, her fellow parliamentarians in the region, applaud her fortitude and deep commitment to serving the people, despite the injustices she continues to endure.”

A human rights lawyer and advocate, Senator De Lima has been one of the staunchest critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s infamous war on drugs, which has resulted in thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in the country. Before her arrest, Senator De Lima launched a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings under President Duterte’s rule. 

She has remained in detention since her arrest on 24 February 2017 on politically-motivated, trumped-up drug charges. 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. On 17 February 2021, the Senator was acquitted in one of three cases against her, but her remaining two cases are ongoing. 

This judicial harassment against Senator De Lima illustrates just one example of the deteriorating state of democracy and human rights in the country, APHR said. Since President Duterte assumed office in 2016, there have been increasing attacks on human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition lawmakers. APHR’s recently published report, Parliamentarians at Risk 2021, revealed that disinformation campaigns and “red-tagging” of opposition parliamentarians increased alarmingly ahead of the 2022 elections, with baseless accusations made against left-wing lawmakers.

Senator De Lima recently filed her candidacy for another six-year term as senator, ahead of national and local elections that are due to take place in May.

“Senator De Lima is no criminal, and continues to stand up for truth, justice, and accountability. The Senator’s innocence is clear, as evidenced by the widespread and persistent calls for her immediate release, including from the United Nations. It is deeply shameful for President Duterte and his government to deprive Senator De Lima of her liberty and political rights, including her right to freely campaign for her candidacy. As long as the Senator is wrongfully deprived of her freedom, the Philippines cannot be seen as a country that respects the rule of law,” Santiago said.  

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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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