Civil society alliance CIVICUS and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) on Monday (15 Mar) called for the immediate release of Filipina human rights defender Teresita Naul.
This marks the first anniversary of her arrest by the national police and the Philippines Army, which was carried out on the grounds of her suspected involvement in the New People’s Army, an “armed Communist rebel group responsible for an attack on the military in Agusan del Sur in December 2018”, despite proof that she was in a different part of the country on the day the incident took place.
Naul was at St Ignatius Hospital in Cagayan de Oro City to undergo a medical examination. Many of her co-accused are human rights activists, nuns, lawyers, and public sector employees.
“Despite attempts by her lawyers to push for the charges against Teresita to be quashed by the courts, her case has dragged on for more than a year, while she remains at risk of COVID-19 in detention. This is an appalling way to treat a human rights defender who has dedicated her life to working for the poorest in the Philippines,” said Gerald Staberock, secretary-general of the OMCT.
The Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found in its inquiry last Dec that Naul had been wrongfully ‘red-tagged’ as a Communist.
Branding Naul as a member of the NPA, said the CHR, is “an outrage upon her personal dignity and casted her reputation in a bad light”.
The CHR stated that Teresita Naul and many other defendants had been accused “without any substantial evidence”.
Furthermore, the CHR warned that red-tagging people without proof is a dangerous act that leaves them vulnerable to surveillance, harassment and human rights abuses.
Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS said in July last year: “Teresita, a women human rights defender should never have been detained in the first place, and we call for her immediate and unconditional release.”
“Her case highlights the increasing use of trumped-up charges to silence those speaking up peacefully to exercise their freedom of expression,” Benedict added.
Naul, 63, is currently detained in Agusan del Sur Provincial jail, where her health has deteriorated in overcrowded and unsanitary prison conditions that put her life at serious risk, given her serious asthma and bronchitis condition, said CIVICUS and OMCT.
“She suffers from being away from her family, she suffers as a senior citizen in prison and, above all, she suffers from being imprisoned for crimes she did not commit,” said her daughter, Ana Naul.
Earlier this month, nine human rights defenders were killed by the security forces in the Calabarzon region, said CIVICUS and OMCT.
This was part of a “violent crackdown” by the Philippines’ law enforcement and armed forces’ crackdowns on human rights activists and groups — a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s order earlier this month to “ignore human rights”, “kill” and “finish off” communist rebels in any armed encounter with them, said CIVICUS and OMCT.
The right to defend human rights in the Philippines is further threatened by the draconian Anti-Terrorism law, they added.
“Introduced last year, this overly broad law can be used by the authorities to arrest and detain people suspected of terrorism on little to no evidence. Civil society organisations are challenging the law in the Supreme Court,” said CIVICUS and OMCT.