MANILA - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima has received backing from another American lawmaker as US Sen. Bob Menendez called to “redouble efforts” to free her, along with other female political prisoners.
In a statement released on the commemoration of International Women’s Day Friday, Menendez urged governments "who are unjustly detaining, harassing, and torturing women for exercising their fundamental rights to immediately release these politically-motivated detentions."
Menendez recognized De Lima as among countless women activists around the globe who are “wrongfully imprisoned” by the state.
“In the Philippines, Senator Leila de Lima, a brave champion of human rights, launched an investigation into extrajudicial executions that began shortly after President [Rodrigo] Duterte took office in 2016,” said Menendez, a ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
De Lima, a former human rights commissioner, has been detained since February 2017 as she faced drug charges over the illicit trade at the national penitentiary during her time as justice chief.
The opposition senator, a vocal administration critic, said the charges were political persecution.
Menendez said De Lima's detention was Duterte's move to silence her.
“As one of the only leaders bold enough to oppose President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, she has faced prolonged arbitrary detention, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International," the US senator said.
"President Duterte has sought to silence her courageous voice as she spoke out against widespread human rights violations, including thousands of extrajudicial executions of mostly poor and marginalized people," he said.
Menendez also related the plight of women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, and Eritrea who were put behind bars by their “repressive” governments for simply exercising their fundamental freedoms.
“They fight for rights to access education and healthcare, and they fight discrimination, corruption, and violence. For their words and for their actions, all too often, governments turn these women into political prisoners.”
Menendez is the latest US lawmaker who has expressed concern over De Lima’s plight.
In Feb. 24, 2017, Sen. Edward Markey, a top Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Asia Subcommittee, described De Lima’s arrest as a “politically-motivated attempt to silence a critic.”
“Prosecutions of political opponents have no place in a democracy, and her case must be handled with the utmost transparency and absolute respect for due process and the rule of law. I will continue to follow the situation in the Philippines closely and to speak out for democracy, human rights, and justice,” Markey said in a statement.
A number of international organizations, human rights groups and personalities are also condemning her supposed illegal detention and demanding for her immediate release.