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US Senate committee backs de Lima’s release

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Leila M. De Lima
PHILSTAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

A US Senate committee has passed a resolution calling on the Philippine government to release Senator Leila M. de Lima and drop criminal charges against the founder of a news website critical of the administration.

The foreign relations committee of the US Senate also condemned the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte for state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings by police and other armed individuals in the war on drugs.

Ms. de Lima, a staunch critic of President Duterte’s war on drugs who has been detained since February 2017 for drug trafficking, is a “prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression,” according to US Senate Resolution 142.

The lawmaker was indicted for allegedly conspiring to commit illegal drug trading inside the national penitentiary when she was the justice secretary.

The US Senate body also called the arrest of Rappler Executive Editor Maria A. Ressa for cyberlibel and tax-related charges “part of a pattern of weaponizing the rule of law to repress independent media.”

US lawmakers called on the government of President Duterte to drop all charges against Ms. Ressa and Ms. de Lima and allow the senator to “fully discharge her legislative mandate” especially as head of the Senate justice committee.

It also called on US President Donald Trump to sanction law enforcers and other Philippine officials responsible for drug-related killings and Ms. De Lima’s arrest and detention.

These include revoking their US visas and freezing their assets.

The passage of the measure “demonstrates broad support for accountability in her case and with others,” tweeted Senator Ed Markey, who filed the resolution.

The Philippines should recognize human rights defenders and their work and allow them to operate freely without fear of reprisal and guarantee press freedom, according to the resolution.

Senator Dick Durbin said on Twitter he was glad the committee passed the resolution that he had co-sponsored to end Ms. de Lima’s detention and the harassment of Ms. Ressa.

“I’ve always believed that standing strong for one’s convictions and fighting always for what is true and just, for human rights and humanity have many friends around the globe,” she said in a statement posted on the Senate website. “Thank you US Senate foreign relations committee for Senate Resolution 142.” — NPA





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