Amnesty to gov’t: Drop 'fabricated charges' vs red-tagged 'Human Rights Day 7'

Amnesty to gov�t: Drop 'fabricated charges' vs red-tagged 'Human Rights Day 7'
Families and friends of the seven activists gathered at the Commission on Human Rights to call for their release on December 14, 2020.
Karapatan / Release

MANILA, Philippines — Amnesty International on Saturday called for the release of a journalist and six trade unionists who were all arrested earlier this month for supposed possession of firearms and explosives — a charge which their families, lawyers and other rights groups have called into question.

The rights group said it was "deeply concerned by the continued detention of [Manila Today editor] Lady Ann Salem and six other activists," adding that "her arrest and detention form part of a well-established pattern of Philippine authorities using false allegations to punish and silence activists."

"Charges of the possession of illegal firearms and explosives have repeatedly been used to arrest and detain members of groups perceived to be critical of the government," Amnesty International added in its statement.

Salem was picked up along with trade union organizer Rodrigo Esperago. Trade unionists Denisse Velasco, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio and Joel Demate were also picked up by authorities following separate raids. They have since been dubbed the Human Rights Day 7.

"The activists’ groups and families, however, deny these allegations and maintain that police authorities fabricated evidence against them and cited irregularities during the conduct of the raid. In a statement, Manila Today said Salem and Esparago, who were arrested together, were forced to turn away for an hour, so that they were unable to watch as the police searched the premises. Velasco’s wife also told the media that the police made him lie face down on the floor during the raid," Amnesty said.

Velasco and Demante on Friday ran to the Supreme Court to seek their release, alleging infirmities in the search warrant and violations of human rights in their arrest. In separate pleadings, they filed petition for the issuance of habeas corpus, asking the SC to thereafter order the respondent police officers to release them without undue delay.

As of December 3, rights alliance group Karapatan counts over 400 political prisoners arrested under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte who are accused of these same charges.


Amnesty also noted that Salem and the six trade unionists belong to organizations that have been red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). 

"National and international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have been calling on the government to end the practice of ‘red-tagging’, which has led to an increase in human rights violations against political activists and human rights defenders," the group said.

"Human rights defenders and activists have experienced increasing attacks against them – including killings and threats often by unknown individuals, as well as arrests and detention by the authorities – after being ‘red-tagged’," it added.

Amid uproar over accusations and threats hurled against celebrities, groups and lawmakers by defense officials, Sen. Ping Lacson, who heads the committee on defense and is a principal author of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, on November 3 launched a probe into the practice of red-tagging. That same day, Amnesty urged the Philippine authorities to stop red-tagging individuals and groups, slamming the practice as "vicious and at times deadly."

But the hearings held were criticized by many for granting NTF-ELCAC officials another platform to red-tag and subsequently endangering the lives of more individuals — something which Lacson denies.

Amnesty renewed its call today, urging "the government to end its campaign of ‘red-tagging’ of media outlets and political activists, and immediately take action to stop the violence, threats and harassment against them."

"Furthermore, the government should promptly and effectively investigate allegations that charges have been fabricated to punish and silence activists and human rights defenders and bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials."

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Kristine Joy Patag

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