By MENCHANI TILENDO
MANILA — The struggle for genuine freedom and exercise of democratic rights in different parts of the world has become more challenging with the rise of fascist regimes and the worsening crisis of imperialism. Even with the continuing onslaught of COVID-19 pandemic, political persecution of freedom fighters and human rights defenders has worsened globally, intensifying massive resistance movements.
As a result of their aspirations and struggles, political prisoners and activists have time and again faced imprisonment – victimized by planted evidence, slapped with trumped-up charges, tagged as terrorists. From all around the world, the number of human rights defenders who are victims of this systematic repression continues to rise, and the people refuse to look at them as mere numbers. They have names and each of them has a narrative of resistance.
“For repressive governments and imperialist nations, political prisoners are enemies; but for the peoples of the world, they are an inspiration. They express the real situation of their country and defend their people against imperialist wars of aggression. They promote the resistance of the people to change a world system that knows only war and profit,” human rights organization Karapatan said in a statement on December 3, International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War.
Crisis and political repression in Latin America
In Latin American countries, political prisoners have been increasing. In an online conference organized by Karapatan, Professor Hector Herrera of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle – Guatemala reported that there are more than 5,084 political prisoners in Chile due to protests and their exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
“Guatemala, where the war was very strong, has generated social erosion to such an extent that its approximately 17 million inhabitants have lived a war of more than 36 years of state terror. The Corona virus in underdeveloped countries like Guatemala has left an inequality gap that has made the country’s major structural problems visible. It is evident that this health crisis has come to highlight inequality. Overcrowding in hospitals and prisons has been on the same level and so infections continue to increase,” Herrera said.
Like in the Philippines, detention centers in Guatemala are also cramped. In the context of COVID-19, the overcrowding scenario in prison cells prevents the necessary isolation measures being taken in cases of suspected infections. Most of the Guatemalan political prisoners who were arbitrarily arrested were members of indigenous Peoples communities, environmental defenders, and workers who protested against maltreatment of transnational companies.
“Faced with the new methods of aggression by the Guatemalan state forces, we as organized people must strengthen and consolidate our demands. We must fight for our political prisoners, with the aim of advancing the processes of the defense of the already tainted democracy of Guatemala, and rebuild the social public which was destroyed so much from 1954 until today,” Herrera added.
Palestinian political imprisonment as a Zionist war crime
Meanwhile, there are over 4,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails today, according to Charlotte Kates, International Coordinator of Samiduon Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network. Since 1948, there have been over 1 million Palestinians imprisoned since the beginning of the Zionist colonization in Palestine.
“When we speak about Palestinian political prisoners, we are looking at incarceration and political imprisonment as key weapons of Zionist colonialism in Palestine. Palestinian prisoners come from all aspects of society– they are workers, farmers, refugees, villagers, city residents, women and men, elders, children, political leaders, freedom fighters, and so on. Nearly every Palestinian family has a member faced with detention or imprisonment,” Kates said.
Kates also highlighted that this experience of colonial imprisonment to suppress the indigenous population and attempt to destroy their resistance movement is something that begins from the earliest days of a Palestinian living under occupation.
“It is worth noting that Zionist occupation and Israeli apartheid could not continue and would never have been created without the full support and backing of imperialist powers, mainly the United States. When we look at the responsibility of political imprisonment today, we can see that the war crimes and crimes against humanity are something that lie on the hands of Zionism and US imperialism,” she added.
Terror-tagging spree in the Philippines
In the Philippines, there are about 657 political prisoners, and 65 percent of whom were arrested under the Duterte government, according to KAPATID Spokesperson Fides Lim. This is despite the Philippine constitution’s expressed prohibition on political imprisonment in the Bill of Rights.
“The sectoral composition of Filipino political prisoners has hardly changed from the Martial Law era until today — peasants, indigenous groups, youths and students, trade unionists, teachers, church people, activists. Many are accused of being part of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army,” Lim said.
“Today, the political prisoners embody the historic failure of the state to address the socio-economic roots of armed conflict, earning the Philippines the dubious distinction of having the longest-running insurgency in the world. As long as these roots of armed conflict are not addressed, the phenomenon of political imprisonment will continue in this country,” Lim said.
Her husband Vicente Ladlad is one of the peace consultants arrested and detained under the Duterte administration.
Lim also pointed out the practice of ‘red-tagging’ or the act of labeling and maliciously accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists, has caused grave implications on Filipino activists. She cited the cases of Anakpawis Chairperson Randall Echanis and Karapatan human rights worker Zara Alvarez. Both were tagged as communists and then murdered by suspected state agents.
“Even in jails, political prisoners are continuously being singled out for discriminatory, arbitrary treatment. They are dumped in detention areas far away from their places of residence, to which, in effect, curtails their right of visitation,” Lim said.
Late last year, Lim said the military planned to obliterate, abolish, and completely wipe out the entire political prisoners section in Bicutan to disperse them in local jails. “In retaliation for our moves to stop this plan, we, relatives, were banned for some days from visiting our imprisoned kin,” Lim added.
Intensify international solidarity to free all political prisoners
More than the demands of ensuring the safety and security of political prisoners lumped in small detention centers, the most immediate call is for governments to set the political prisoners free.
“As thousands of activists and freedom fighters are imprisoned, tortured, killed, and disappeared from all around the world, we continue to advance resistance against state repression within our own borders and against the predatory wars of US imperialism,” Karapatan ended.