- 15 March marks one year in detention for rights activist Teresita Naul
- Philippines Human Rights Commission says Teresita was wrongfully ‘red-tagged’
- Teresita’s daughter fears for her mother’s life in prison
Ahead of human rights defender Teresita Naul’s first anniversary in detention on 15 March 2021, civil society alliance CIVICUS and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) call for her immediate release.
Teresita Naul was arrested on 15 March 2020 in Lanao del Sur, on the southern island of Mindanao, by the national police and the Philippines Army (AFP) on fabricated charges of “kidnapping”, “destructive arson” and “serious illegal detention”. Police claim she is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed Communist rebel group responsible for an attack on the military in Agusan del Sur in December 2018, although there is evidence proving that she was in another part of the country on that day.
An enquiry carried out by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on 28 December 2020 found that Teresita had been wrongfully ‘red-tagged’, that is, branded as a Communist. The CHR further added that “labelling Teresita Naul as an NPA member 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 further warned that red-tagging people without proof is a dangerous act that leaves them vulnerable to surveillance, harassment and human rights abuses. On March 5 2021, President Duterte ordered the police and the army to “ignore human rights”, “kill” and “finish off” communist rebels in any armed encounter with them. Two days after, nine human rights defenders were killed by the security forces in Calabarzon region amid a violent crackdown on rights groups.
The right to defend human rights in the Philippines is further threatened by the draconian Anti-Terrorism law. 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.
“In the Philippines, red-tagging has become a popular modus operandi to target and harass activists, journalists and human rights organisations. Many rights defenders, including Teresita Naul, have been rounded up and unlawfully detained on trumped-up charges after being branded a communist. On Teresita’s one-year anniversary in detention, we call on the authorities to drop the charges against her and release her immediately and unconditionally,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS.
“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.
Teresita, aged 63, is being 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.
“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 Ana Naul, Teresita’s daughter.
“Nanay Tessie”, or “Mother Tessie”, as Naul is commonly known in the Philippines, has dedicated her life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. She is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature prominently in CIVICUS’ global campaign #StandAsMyWitness and OMCT’s #FacesOfHope campaign. Both campaigns call for the release of all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained worldwide, including those in pre-trial detention.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members worldwide.
CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world. The Philippines’ civic space rating was downgraded to ‘repressed ’ in December 2020.
ABOUT THE OMCT
The OMCT works with over 200 member organisations, which constitute its SOS-Torture Network, to end torture, fight impunity and protect human rights defenders worldwide. Together, we make up the largest global group actively standing up to torture in more than 90 countries. Helping local voices be heard, we support our vital partners in the field and provide direct assistance to victims. Our international secretariat is based in Geneva, with offices in Brussels and Tunis.
For interviews with CIVICUS and Teresita Naul’s family and lawyer, please contact:
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