Amnesty International urges UK pressure on PH rights situation
MANILA, Philippines — A new report by London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International is calling on the United Kingdom to “wield political and diplomatic pressure” on Philippine authorities to stop the criminalization and Red-tagging of activists, journalists and other critics.
The Amnesty report, titled “On the human rights front line: How the UK government can defend the defenders,” is an organized effort, together with other international rights groups, to get the UK to outline a strategy for defending human rights defenders across the world as part of its foreign and development policy objectives.
Apart from the Philippines, the report also focused on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, Libya, Russia and Zimbabwe.
Based on interviews with 10 local rights, labor and press freedom advocates, the report’s conclusions on the Philippines cited the “prevailing climate of impunity [that] has fueled an increase in killings of activists for their political views.”
“Human rights defenders face constant and multifaceted threats, intimidation and attacks, the latter include harassment, false charges, and imprisonment,” Amnesty said, adding that “Killings are also a regular occurrence. All 10 interviewees have experienced attacks, threats, smear campaigns, and death threats because of their work.”
‘Attacks on the media’
Amnesty pointed out “further attacks on the media” since Congress denied the franchise renewal application of broadcast giant ABS-CBN in May last year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also cited the Red-tagging of journalist Nestor Burgos Jr. of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Burgos, who is also director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), was falsely accused of being a rebel recruiter and propagandist by the government’s anti-insurgency task force.
NUJP chair Nonoy Espina, who was interviewed for the report, said journalists who are Red-tagged are often “people they don’t agree with.”
“Usually they go online and [ask] ‘Are you a communist?’ Because they didn’t agree with the reporting and [this is also] to send the journalists a message. When the state can no longer tolerate dissent it’s quite scary, I think,” Espina said.
The report cited the case of human rights defender Zara Alvarez, who was assassinated last year soon after being branded a communist rebel by the government.
The government has also taken advantage of the pandemic to crack down on civil freedoms, including on activists doing relief work for vulnerable communities, the report noted.
Amnesty also said the UK and other European groups have been providing support for rights defenders here.
But “given how human rights defenders are under constant threat and attack in the Philippines, the most common recommendation from interviewees was that the United Kingdom should speak out more publicly about human rights and defenders in the country,” the report said.
“The UK needs to call out our government. The greatest tragedy is when people can speak out, but they keep silent against injustice. We are complicit when we look the other way,” National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said in the report.
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