ASEAN Parliamentarians renew call for De Lima’s freedom, cite her among ‘parliamentarians at risk’

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The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has named Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima, along with seven other Filipino Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been critical of Mr. Duterte and his crooked policies, as among the parliamentarians who are at risk in Southeast Asia.

In a 48-page report entitled “Parliamentarians at Risk: Reprisals against opposition MPs in Southeast Asia,” APHR also renewed its longstanding call for the “immediate and unconditional” release of De Lima and the dropping of all criminal charges against her.

“President Duterte has harassed and intimidated his critics, including APHR member Senator Leila De Lima, who has been imprisoned for the last three and a half years on politically-motivated charges,” part of APHR’s report read.

“The Philippines is also the only country with a Senator currently in detention, reflecting the highly repressive environment that political opponents operate in under the Duterte administration,” it added.

Joining De Lima in the list are former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Senator Risa Hontiveros, MP France Castro and former MP Antonio Tinio of the ACT Teachers party-list, MP Sarah Elago of the Kabataan party-list, MP Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna party-list, and former MP Ariel Casilao of the Anakpawis party-list.

Citing data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), APHR noted that 533 MPs in 40 countries faced human rights violations, with Asia being the second most dangerous region in 2019.

The APHR report, which sheds light on how some governments in the region have been targeting opposition lawmakers to suppress dissent and attain unchecked power, has found that authorities use a range of tactics to intimidate and harass opposition.

“These include filing politically-motivated cases, stripping parliamentarians of their seats, threatening or surveilling them, and organizing online campaigns of disinformation,” the report stated.

Citing the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians’ findings following a mission to the Philippines in 2017, APHR said that “the steps taken against Senator de Lima come in response to her vocal opposition to President Duterte’s war on drugs, including her denunciation of his alleged responsibility for the extrajudicial killings.”

“Senator Leila de Lima, who remains in detention since her arrest on 24 February 2017, is facing three counts of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading charges. While her trial has begun, all three cases have faced significant delays, and at least six judges have withdrawn themselves from hearing the cases,” APHR said.

APHR likewise cited the November 2018 ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stating that De Lima’s detention was arbitrary “because she was discriminated based on her political views, status as a human rights defender, and as a woman; her rights to a fair trial were violated; her detention was a result of her exercising her fundamental freedoms; and her pre-trial detention lacks any legal basis.”

Also contained in APHR’s recommendation for the Philippine government, as well as that of Thailand’s and Malaysia’s, are calls to “immediately end all forms of politically-motivated harassment of opposition lawmakers” and to “immediately drop all politically-motivated investigations and charges against them.”

In its report entitled “In the Crosshairs of the Presidency: Attacks on Opposition Lawmakers in the Philippines,” released last year, APHR urged the Philippine government to drop all trumped-up drug charges against De Lima whom it referred to as “the most well-known symbol of the Duterte administration’s efforts to silence critics.” (30)

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