Anti-terror bill a ‘human rights disaster in the making’ — watchdog
MANILA, Philippines — The controversial Anti-Terror Bill which now only needs the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte to be turned into law is a “human rights disaster in the making,” the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
In a statement, the HRW noted that the draft law uses an “overbroad definition” of terrorism that can subject suspects, apprehended without a warrant, to weeks of detention prior to an appearance before a judge.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act is a human rights disaster in the making. The law will open the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people or representatives of organizations that have displeased the President,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch.
The draft law creates a new Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), consisting of members appointed by the executive, that would permit the authorities to arrest suspects without a judicial warrant and to detain them without charge for 14 days extendible by 10 days before they must be presented before a judicial authority.
HRW pointed out that under the existing law, terrorism suspects must be brought before a judge in three days.
“Human Rights Watch believes that anyone taken into custody should appear before a judge within 48 hours,” it added.
HRW said that the broad role of the Anti-Terrorism Council which will be established under the proposed law places people’s liberty at risk. It also cited the “long-running surveillance, harassment, and suppression campaign against activists and groups that operate openly and legally” by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict.
“The new anti-terrorism law could have a horrific impact on basic civil liberties, due process, and the rule of law amid the Philippines’ shrinking democratic space. The Philippine people are about to face an Anti-Terrorism Council that will be prosecutor, judge, jury and jailer,” added Robertson.
The group remarked that NICA has frequently accused these activist groups and individuals of being front organizations, members or supporters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“Over the years, the government has targeted hundreds of community activists, tribal leaders, farmers, environmentalists, trade union leaders, and local journalists with threats, harassment, and prosecution on suspicion of being communists or communist sympathizers,” HRW said.
While the bill exempts advocacy, work stoppages, and humanitarian action from the definitions of terrorism, provided they are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety, the council’s power to determine what constitutes a serious risk “undermines those protections,” according to HRW.
“The law, which does not define incitement (to commit terrorist acts), poses a danger to freedom of the media and freedom of expression by providing an open-ended basis for prosecuting speech,” it added.
Citing a report from the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva released on June 4, the group noted that at least 248 land and environmental rights activists, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists in the country have been killed between 2015 and 2019 in relation to their work.
HRW also noted that the draft law also relaxes accountability for law enforcement agents who violate the rights of suspects, particularly those in detention. Under existing law, law enforcement agents who wrongfully detain suspects can be penalized P500,000 pesos for every day of wrongful detention. However, this safeguard provision against government misconduct is excised from the proposed new version of the law.
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