Human rights group Karapatan decried what it described as the “continuing harassment” of Pia Montalban, a human rights worker in central Luzon who was among individuals arrested and detained in the province of Tarlac on June 9.
Montalban was released on bail on June 12, but continued to face charges and had been tagged as a recruiter for the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed group, the New People’s Army.
“These various forms of harassment against Pia Montalban should stop,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan. She described Montalban as “a human rights worker, a writer, activist for farmers and indigenous people.”
Palabay said Karapatan is “deeply concerned” about Montalban’s safety and security, adding that after her arrest early this month “there were threats and harassment against her on social media.”
In a Karapatan statement, Montalban recounted that during the arrest, a police official was heard shouting at other policemen to confirm whether their “target” was there, apparently referring to her.
Karapatan said that for years, and even during the pandemic, the name and photograph of Montalban has been included in posters or activists tagged as “terrorist, communist, and NPA recruiter.”
On Saturday, June 18, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, renewed her call on the Philippine government to protect human rights defenders in the country.
“I’m hearing more worrying news about Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines being targeted,” she said in Twitter.
In a statement, Lawlor said that in recent years “many defenders have been dragged before the courts, smeared, red tagged and murdered in the Philippines.”
“This intimidation should stop immediately,” she said. “I urge the authorities in the Philippines to stop the targeting of Human Rights Defenders, and instead promote and protect their work,” Lawlor added.
“We know that harassment and threats can be precursors to physical attacks, as they make defenders more vulnerable and isolated. These attacks should stop immediately.”
In a statement, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict called Lawlor “ignorant,” saying that her idea of human rights defenders is “biased and prejudiced.”
Flosemer Chris Gonzales, the task force’s spokesman, said Lawlor made sweeping, baseless conclusions and accusations against the Philippine government.
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