Karapatan joins worldwide #StandAsMyWitness campaign for release of imprisoned rights defenders

Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan joined Civicus, the World Organisation Against Torture, and other human rights organizations in commemorating Nelson Mandela Day this July 18 with the launch of the #StandAsMyWitness campaign calling for the human rights defenders’ “immediate release from jail and persecution, and for states, authorities and multinational corporations to guarantee peaceful human rights activities — without fear of reprisals and intimidation” since, 30 years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison on February 11, 1990, “all around the world people are still imprisoned, persecuted, and harassed for their stand for freedom, rights and democratic values, and for calling out corrupt governments and multinational companies.”

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that the global campaign “underscores the common plights and struggles faced by human rights defenders: all over the world, human rights defenders face harassment and threats for their human rights work, and thousands are already behind bars following unjust trials and fabricated charges — locked up in overcrowded prisons where the COVID-19 pandemic gravely threatens their rights, health, and welfare.”

“The Philippines, especially under the Duterte administration, is no exception: more than 600 activists are currently imprisoned in the country’s highly congested detention facilities, and it has been four months since political prisoners in the country filed an urgent appeal before the Supreme Court for their temporary humanitarian release but their petition is still not granted as attacks and the judicial harassment of human rights workers from Karapatan alarmingly continue. With the enactment of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Act, we only expect these attacks and threats to worsen,” Palabay warned.

As of April 2020, Karapatan’s data has documented 619 political prisoners all over the country, with 383 arrested under the Duterte administration; 97 of them are already sick while 55 are elderly. 98 of the political prisoners in the country are women. Among those featured in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign is Karapatan National Council member for Northern Mindanao Teresita Naul, a 62-year-old human rights worker who was arrested last March 15 in Lala, Lanao del Sur and is currently detained at the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail as she faces trumped-up charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and destructive arson for an alleged New People’s Army attack in Agusan del Sur in December 2018.

The Karapatan official stated that “Teresita Naul’s arrest highlights the worsening attacks faced by human rights defenders in the Philippines as well as the serious dangers and implications of red-tagging — and this massive, coordinated vilification campaign seems to have only intensified with the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Act into law, which takes effect today. State security forces have targeted Karapatan’s members and officers, many of whom face fabricated criminal charges linking them to alleged armed or terrorist attacks and some have already been either imprisoned, brutally killed, or are facing threats to their lives, safety, and security.”

“The #StandAsMyWitness campaign highlights the urgent need to build solidarity and action in resisting all attacks on human rights and human rights defenders all throughout the world, especially with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and a worsening pandemic of rising authoritarianism. Now more than ever, human rights defenders need support as we at Karapatan reassert our call to free all imprisoned human rights defenders and political prisoners,” she ended.