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Regional lawmakers renew call for release of Philippine Senator de Lima

JAKARTA - 24 February 2021: On the fourth anniversary of Philippine Senator Leila de Lima’s prolonged imprisonment, parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today expressed their collective solidarity with her and renewed their call for her immediate and unconditional release.

Leila De Lima (Source: APHR)

“It should never be a crime to challenge the authorities or hold them to account. This is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy and ensures that those in power are kept in check,” said Wong Chen, a member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and Malaysian lawmaker. “Senator de Lima’s detention represents the worrying state of democracy region-wide and the rise of authoritarianism, which we must work relentlessly to push back against to protect fundamental freedoms.” 

Senator de Lima has been one of the most vocal critics of President Duterte’s deadly anti-drugs policy, and has remained in detention since her arrest on 24 February 2017 for alleged drug trafficking charges. Prior to her arrest, she launched a Senate investigation into extrajudicial killings under the current administration. Her legal proceedings have also faced significant delays and at least six judges have withdrawn from hearing her case.

Most recently, on 17 February, the Senator was acquitted in one of her three cases, after a Regional Trial Court granted her demurrer to evidence application (a motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of prosecution evidence). Her applications for bail and demurrer in another case were however denied, and she remains in detention until the resolution of her two pending cases.

“While we welcome the judge’s decision to acquit Senator Leila de Lima in one case, the charges against her were politically-motivated from the start and should never have been brought in the first place. The continued judicial harassment and prolonged detention are harsh reminders of the administration’s zero-tolerance for political dissent and critical voices,” added Wong Chen.

Regional lawmakers also noted that Senator de Lima’s case reflected a broader trend of harassment and intimidation, not only on fellow parliamentarians, but on dissent in Southeast Asia.

In a report published last year, APHR found that at least 27 opposition lawmakers in Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines have been investigated or charged for merely carrying out their parliamentary mandate. Tactics used were similar to those deployed against human rights defenders, journalists, and other pro-democracy activists, and part of a wider attempt to silence opinions.

“As regional lawmakers, we continue to stand in solidarity with Senator de Lima until the day she walks out a free person. She has now spent four years in prison and none of the cases against her have resulted in a conviction. Her unjust detention must end now, and we urge the Philippine authorities to allow all lawmakers to carry out their mandate effectively without fear of reprisals,” Wong Chen said. 


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