MANILA, Philippines – Human rights groups slammed the continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima as the lawmaker spent her 1000th day in Camp Crame on Wednesday, November 20.
In a statement, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that De Lima's "persecution is a testament to the Duterte government's increasing authoritarianism."
"The bogus charges against her should be dropped and she should be released immediately," HRW said.
De Lima was arrested on February 24, 2017, over drug charges stemming from her alleged links to drug lords in the New Bilibid Prison. (READ: EXPLAINER: What is Leila de Lima being accused of?)
But these accusations, she claimed, were made up in retaliation for her steadfast criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte's human rights violations. As Commission on Human Rights chairperson in 2009, De Lima initiated public hearings into the alleged existence of the Davao Death Squad under Duterte when he was mayor and continued to do so as Senator in 2016.
According to HRW, De Lima's experience is really a product of her fierce defense of human rights.
"She has suffered enough for standing up for human rights in the Philippines," the group said.
Rights group Karapatan also called for her immediate release and likened her situation to the hundreds of political prisoners and activists facing trumped-up charges.
"As a human rights alliance, we will continue to hold accountable those who shamelessly persecute government critics by weaponizing the courts and its bureaucracy to fabricate charges against them," it said.
"We will stand with other rights defenders and communities to stop a government who perpetrates threats and attacks against individuals who courageously stand for human rights," the group added.
The Free Leila Movement, meanwhile, said that the Senator will not be silenced despite hard relentless attacks by the Duterte government, adding that "tyrants thrive in the silence of those they oppress, so we refuse to cower into submission."
"You will be the easiest target if you choose to seek refuge in silence, looking the other way even as you are already confronted with the blatant oppression that has taken so many lives and shattered so many dreams," the group said.
On November 18, Canada-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights launched an appeal to the United Nations urging its experts and groups to help De Lima, hoping that the appeal would"put enough pressure on the administration to release" the Senator from "unjust and arbitrary" detention.
De Lima is not the only opposition figure subjected to legal harassment by the Duterte administration, according to critics. Aside from the Senator, Vice President Leni Robredo is facing an inciting to sedition complaint over her alleged involvement in a plot to oust Duterte. (PODCAST: Inciting to sedition sa ilalim ni Duterte) – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.