Arrest of another foreigner who attended Sona rally draws flak

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01:13 AM September 15th, 2013

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By: Jerome Aning, September 15th, 2013 01:13 AM

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MANILA, Philippines—Immigration police arrested a Canadian student at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday night allegedly for participating in the protest rally during President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address before Congress last July.

Lawyers of Kim Chatillon-Meunier, 24, said she was a student intern here. They threatened to take the Philippines to the United Nations Human Rights Committee for its harassment of foreigners expressing support for human rights.

According to Bureau of Immigration officials, Meunier was on the agency’s watchlist. She was arrested at Naia Terminal 3 while waiting for her 7:10 p.m. flight to Hong Kong. She was put in a taxi and brought to the BI jail in Bicutan, Taguig City.

Meunier’s lawyers, Edre Olalia and Julian Oliva from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), rushed to the BI jail to meet with her. They stopped immigration officials from searching the student’s luggage without a warrant.

“Kim is very traumatized because she was alone when arrested. She was brought to the BI jail in a taxi by her escorts and was detained along with eight other foreigners. She was sobbing when we talked to her,” Olalia told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

The human rights group Karapatan, which alerted the media to Meunier’s detention, said the student did not even join the anti-Sona march conducted by militant groups, adding that “she arrived later at the rally site and only observed the rally program.”

A regular student at the Université de Montreal in Quebec, Meunier was selected by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to go into an internship program in the Philippines called Students for Development. The program is sponsored and financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), one of the biggest social program sponsors in the Philippines.

While in the Philippines, she attended the International Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines in July. She also joined the International Solidarity and Humanitarian Mission in Quezon province, along with other foreign participants, shortly before the conference. She was also involved in the research and documentation of the reproductive health conditions of women in Tondo, Manila.

“She did not march or speak. She is not a criminal. She is just a quiet simple student fulfilling her university requirements,” Olalia said.

The lawyer said Meunier had gotten in touch with her family and the Canadian Embassy. He said the student had just finished her internship and was flying to Hong Kong to join a friend and rest for a few days before flying back to Montreal.

Meunier was the second foreign activist held for allegedly participating in the anti-Sona rallies. A Dutchman, Thomas van Beersum, was also waiting for his flight at Naia on Aug. 6 when he was detained by immigration agents only to be deported and blacklisted.

The NUPL in a statement condemned Meunier’s detention, saying that “even innocuous behavior is now being penalized because of the overzealous and repressive efforts to stifle the legitimate exercise of rights. The dubious reason for stopping her speaks volumes of how the government regards its own Constitution and laws on basic rights. It once again reflects the utter disregard of pertinent international laws and conventions.”

“Until the government respects the rights of foreigners who do not surrender their inherent rights upon entry to this country, we cannot even claim to have really matured into a truly democratic state worthy of the respect of the international community of nations. Her unjustified incarceration is even more revolting in light of the free and unhampered egress of some suspected criminals and plunderers who are laughing all the way past porous immigration borders,” the lawyers group said.

Karapatan called on the BI to release Meunier and let her go home.

“[We] condemn this blatant harassment and violation of the rights of Meunier. Like what the BI and the Aquino administration did to Van Beersum, they are violating her fundamental right to free expression and her right to study and support human rights issues in the Philippines,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.

The NUPL said it would join international organizations in filing a case in the United Nations Human Rights Committee to question the detention of foreigners.

Karapatan, for its part, demanded that the BI scrap all watchlists and blacklists “as these are tools for harassment and the suppression of fundamental rights.”

“The authorities must let her go and allow her to go home to her family. It is incumbent on the government to tell this traumatized young lady student who chose to come here whether indeed it is more fun in the Philippines,” the NUPL said.

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