Calls grow for ex-Philippine senator’s release after prison riot

Rights activists have called for the immediate release of a former opposition senator from the Philippines after she was taken hostage during a rampage by three Muslim militants in an unsuccessful attempt to escape of a maximum security prison.

Police have killed three militants linked to the Islamic State group behind Sunday’s violence in which a police officer was stabbed and former Senator Leila de Lima was briefly held hostage.

The militants attempted to escape from the high-level prison at the National Police Headquarters in Metro Manila, police said.

National police chief General Rodolfo Azurin Jr acknowledged there had been security breaches at the detention center and said its commander had been removed from his post as part of an investigation.

Supporters of detained former opposition Senator Leila de Lima wave slogans as they wait for her to pass to court in Muntinlupa, Philippines (Aaron Favila/AP)

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch separately expressed deep concern over the violence and ordeal of Ms. de Lima, and called for her immediate release.

Butch Olano, Philippines Director of Amnesty International, said: “That she has had to endure this traumatic and frightening experience on top of being arbitrarily detained for over five years now is the height of outrage, neglect and of injustice.

About two dozen supporters staged a protest for Ms de Lima, who was taken to a Metro Manila Magistrate’s Court on Monday for a hearing, which was later postponed.

“We condemned what happened yesterday,” protester Charito del Carmen said. “It hurts for us because if she were killed, what would happen to the fight for justice we are fighting for her?”

Hostage of a former senator from the Philippines
Detained former opposition senator Leila de Lima waves under tight security as she arrives to attend a hearing that was later postponed (Aaron Favila/AP)

One of the three inmates stabbed a police officer who was delivering breakfast after dawn in an open space, where inmates can exercise outdoors.

A guard in a guard tower fired warning shots and then shot and killed two of the prisoners as they refused to yield, police said.

The third inmate ran to Ms. de Lima’s cell and briefly held her hostage, General Azurin said.

Ms De Lima told investigators the hostage taker tied her hands and feet, blindfolded her and pressed a pointed weapon to her chest and demanded access to reporters and a military plane to take him to the southern province of Sulu, where the Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf has long had a presence.

The man constantly threatened to kill her until he was shot dead by a police negotiator, the 63-year-old said.

Following the violence in prison, Filibon Tacardon said he and other Lima lawyers hoped the court would now grant his appeal for bail. Calls have also been made to place her under house arrest.

Hostage of a former senator from the Philippines
Human rights activists have called for the immediate release of Leila de Lima after she was taken hostage during a prison rampage by three Muslim activists (Aaron Favila/AP)

Ms de Lima has been detained since 2017 on drug charges she says were fabricated by former President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials in an effort to muzzle her criticism of his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs.

It left thousands dead, mostly petty suspects, and triggered an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity.

She was cleared in one of the three cases and at least two witnesses retracted their allegations against her.

Mr Duterte, who has insisted on his guilt, resigned from office on June 30 at the end of his rocky six-year term.

Newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr spoke by phone to Ms de Lima, who was confined to a hospital, and asked if she wanted to be moved to another detention site, but she rejected the offer , said General Azurin.

Even before the prison violence, the European Union parliament, some US lawmakers and United Nations human rights monitors demanded that Ms de Lima be released immediately.

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