AI renews call for De Lima’s release on her 59th birthday

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Amnesty International (AI) has renewed its call for the Philippine government to immediately drop all trumped-up drug charges against Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima and release her from continued unjust detention, in time for her 59th birthday today, Aug. 27.

In an official statement, AI said the present administration should clear De Lima of all the politically-motivated charges based on unsubstantiated statements of convicted felons to allow her to fulfill her vital work as duly-elected Senator of the Republic and human rights defender.

“Amnesty International calls on the Philippine authorities to drop all charges against Senator de Lima and ensure she is released immediately and unconditionally as she is a prisoner of conscience solely detained for peacefully exercising her human rights,” AI wrote.

“Amnesty International considers the targeting of Senator de Lima by the authorities as a blatant attempt to silence one of the most prominent critics of the violent ‘war on drugs’ and bar her from participating in public life,” it added.

AI maintained that De Lima was deliberately accused of allowing the proliferation of drugs in the National Bilibid Prison during her term as justice secretary, based solely on questionable statements of inmates who may also have received benefits after providing their testimony.

Note that the Senator from Bicol has been in arbitrary detention for 550 days to date at the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame, Quezon City after she surrendered to arresting authorities over bogus drug charges on Feb. 24, 2017.

“Amnesty International believes there has been no substantial evidence on record that can so far sustain such allegations. Prosecutors have recently amended the charges against her – from illegal drug trading to ‘conspiracy’ to trade drugs – in what seems an attempt to delay the court proceedings in light of the absence of evidence to sustain the original charges,” AI said.

The rights watchdog reiterated that De Lima was targeted by the vindictive Duterte regime because she initiated a Senate investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country in July 2016.

“The charges against her clearly stem from her criticism of President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, which has resulted in the extrajudicial execution of thousands of suspected drug offenders and other human rights violations,” AI wrote.

AI warned that human rights defenders like De Lima are vulnerable to harassment and intimidation by the government who consider them as threats instead of allies.

“The political persecution of Senator de Lima continues in an increasingly dangerous context where human rights defender and civil society organisations face intimidation and obstruction in their attempts to investigate and raise concerns about human rights in the country,” AI said.

In its statement, AI also urged the authorities to ensure that no arbitrary restrictions, including denial of visits, are imposed on De Lima.

On Feb. 23, ahead of the anniversary of De Lima’s surrender, AI already called on the government to release her “immediately and unconditionally,” with AI Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific James Gomez describing the charges against her as “pure fiction.”

AI also awarded De Lima with the “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender” recognition for her unwavering fight to defend human rights and for opposing the abuses under the government’s bloody war on drugs, during its 1st Ignite Awards for Human Rights last June 2.

De Lima, who continues to receive awards and citations from various organizations and leaders here and abroad, was also cited as one of the notable Women Human Rights Defenders by AI, in 2017.

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