CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, welcomes the release of human rights defender Teresita Naul. Her arrest and prosecution highlight how activists in the Philippines are often vilified and criminalised for their activism under the Duterte regime.
Naul was released from Agusan del Sur Provincial jail on 28 October 2021 after 19 months in detention after the courts dismissed the charges against her. According to the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), the court held as ‘inadequate the affidavits of complainants’ from the army and that ‘the facts and circumstances led it to believe that the accused has not committed the offences charged. Furthermore, the court also condemned the prosecution on the excessive delay of more than a year taken solely for reinvestigation.
“We welcome the news of the release of activist Teresita Naul. She spent nearly nineteen months in jail - on trumped-up charges - when she shouldn’t even have been detained for a day. This was an outrageous travesty of justice and an appalling way to treat a human rights defender who has dedicated her life to working for the poorest. Her detention during a global pandemic also put her life at risk,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher for CIVICUS.
Teresita Naul, or “Nay Tessie”, as she is commonly known in the Philippines, has dedicated her life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. She is a regional council member for the human rights group Karapatan in Northern Mindanao and a staff of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM).
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 claimed she was 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. However, there was 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. While in detention, Naul’s health deteriorated in overcrowded and unsanitary prison conditions, putting her life at serious risk given her severe asthma and bronchitis.
“While Teresita Naul has been released, many other activists have been similarly vilified and arbitrarily detained and still languish in jails in the Philippines for merely expressing their views and must also be released immediately,” added Benedict.
In the Philippines, ‘red-tagging’ has become a popular modus operandi to target and harass activists, journalists and human rights organisations and leave them vulnerable to abuses. Many rights defenders, such as Teresita Naul, have been rounded up and unlawfully detained on trumped-up charges after being branded as communist. The work of activists is further threatened by the draconian Anti-Terrorism law. The authorities can use this overly broad law to arrest and detain people suspected of terrorism with little to no evidence.
Teresita Naul is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature prominently in CIVICUS’ global campaign #StandAsMyWitness calling 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