MANILA – Amnesty International urged Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday to release Senator Leila de Lima, one of his most vocal critics, who has been under detention for a year on bribery charges.
The Justice Department accuses de Lima – who was justice minister between 2010-2015 and who has been detained since Feb. 24, 2017, in a prison cell at Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City in northwestern Manila – of allegedly accepting bribes from jailed drug traffickers in exchange for official favors during her tenure.
The government must “immediately drop all charges and release prisoner of conscience Senator Leila de Lima, an outspoken critic of President Duterte who has been jailed on politically motivated drug charges,” AI said in a statement issued ahead of the anniversary of her arrest.
Before her arrest, de Lima was chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which was investigating Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which since June 2016 has killed around 7,000.
Most of the opposition politicians and international human rights organizations back de Lima’s claim that the government manipulated evidence and framed her.
“She has been singled out and targeted for nothing but her courageous opposition to President Duterte’s appalling policies,” said the London-based nonprofit.
De Lima “has been refused access to the internet, a mobile phone or a radio or TV. Police have also ignored a request from her doctor to install an air conditioning unit in her cell,” according to AI.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also asked for the immediate release of the senator, whose situation they described as “a preposterous abuse of the criminal justice system.”
“The government is relying on repression and intimidation to silence and impede the efforts of those working to uncover abuses and promote accountability,” APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago said.
The senator faces charges of indirect bribery, violation of the anti-corruption law, and violation of the article “sale, trade, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation” of illegal drugs.
The last charge carries a punishment of between 12 years and life imprisonment, as well as fines of up to 10 million pesos ($196,000).