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Philippine court frees human rights doctor

Judge calls arrest of Dr Maria Natividad Castro 'repugnant to her right to liberty'

Philippine court frees human rights doctor

Dr. Maria Natividad Castro was also charged with kidnapping. (Photo: Rappler.com)

Published: March 31, 2022 07:50 AM GMT

Updated: April 01, 2022 06:52 AM GMT

A human rights activist and doctor arrested in the Philippines last month on rebellion and kidnapping charges has been freed from detention after a court dismissed the case against her and condemned the manner of her arrest.

Dr. Maria Natividad Castro, 53, walked free from detention on March 30 after the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court ordered her release on March 25.

She had been held since her arrest in Manila on Feb. 18 for allegedly being a fundraiser for the Communist Party’s armed wing, the New People’s Army. She was also accused of being involved in the kidnapping of a government-backed militia member in 2018 while helping indigenous communities in Mindanao.

Her arrest drew swift condemnation from rights groups and fellow doctors who accused the government of concocting trumped-up charges.

Two days later she was flown to Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur Province in Mindanao to face trial.

However, the court called the doctor’s arrest “repugnant to her right to liberty,” saying it could find no reason for her detention let alone holding her for more than 40 days.

Many critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have found themselves falsely accused of being communists by the government in recent years, some of whom have been later killed by unknown assailants

“Without probable cause, the court has not acquired jurisdiction over the accused, which warrants the dismissal of the case,” Judge Fernando Fudulan Jr. said in his ruling.

Probable cause is the standard by which police authorities have reason to obtain an arrest warrant for a suspect.

The court said there was no evidence suggesting Castro was a member of the New People’s Army.

Castro’s lawyer Wilfred Asis said Castro was not properly identified in the warrant that contained the names and aliases of 468 suspects.

He said Castro’s story should inspire those who are “red tagged” or branded as rebels unjustly by the government’s anti-communist task force.

Many critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have found themselves falsely accused of being communists by the government in recent years, some of whom have been later killed by unknown assailants.   

“Doc Nat’s story gives us hope that the legal system in the Philippines is still working,” Asis said.

Human rights groups welcomed Castro’s release. Kapatid – Families and Friends of Political Prisoners said the court ruling was expected as Castro’s arrest was a clear violation of universally protected rights.

“Her release is the offshoot of the growing pushback against red tagging and criminalization of human rights defenders and activists. There was no way for the court to have ruled otherwise than to dismiss the charges of kidnapping against her because they were not only plainly ridiculous but also brazenly contemptuous of constitutionally and universally protected rights,” the group said in a statement.

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