The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemned the arrest and detention of Senator Leila De Lima and called for her immediate release.
The ICJ believes that the charges brought against Senator De Lima are fabricated and thus considers her prosecution to be politically motivated and amounting to judicial persecution.
Senator De Lima is a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“This is clearly meant to silence for good a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
In August 2016, Senator De Lima led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights into hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings occurring after President Duterte assumed power.
On 19 September 2016, however, she was removed by her colleagues from her position as chairperson of the said committee due to their concerns towards her “continuous efforts to destroy the President”.
Weeks before her removal, on 25 August 2016, President Duterte had accused Senator De Lima of running a drug trafficking ring inside New Bilibid Prison during her stint as Justice Secretary.
Subsequently, on 20 September 2016, led by the President’s allies in the Congress, the House Committee on Justice began a probe into these allegations against De Lima and in turn, on 17 February 2017, the Department of Justice filed three charges against her under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (Republic Act 9165): Section 5 specifically with “trading” in illegal drugs, Section 26(b), and Section 28. If found guilty, she may face the penalty or a prison sentence ranging between twelve years to life imprisonment.
Senator De Lima was then arrested on 23 February 2017.
“If the government really wants to defeat the illegal drug trade, there should be more prosecutions before domestic courts. We do not see this, however. We only see active persecution of those who are critical of the President’s ‘war on drugs’,” said Zarifi.
The ICJ also noted with profound concern the statements of officials from the Philippine government, including the Secretary of Justice, alluding to the Senator’s guilt which—apart from being inconsistent with the right to the presumption of innocence—constitute additional evidence that the charges against her are a blatant attempt not only to silence her for good but also to discredit her in the eyes of the public.
The right to presumption of innocence is an absolute right. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, public authorities and officials have a duty to restrain from prejudging the outcome of a trial, by refraining from making public statements appearing to affirm the guilt of the accused.
The ICJ believes that public authorities and officials, including prosecutors, may inform the public about criminal investigations or charges but should not express a view as to the guilt of any defendant.
The ICJ calls on the Philippine government to immediately release Senator De Lima and immediately stop any further acts of harassment against her and other public critics of the government.
For questions or further inquiries, please contact:
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, email: [email protected], tel. no.: +66 2 619 8477 ext. 206 or +66 840923575