Human Rights First Calls for Immediate Release of Philippines Activist Maria Castro
WASHINGTON D.C. – Human Rights First, today condemned this week’s arrest of human rights defender Natividad Maria Castro in the Philippines and called on the government of the Philippines to release her immediately and unconditionally.
Castro, also known as “Doctor Naty,” is a former regional Secretary General of the human rights NGO, Karapatan, and still an active part of the group’s network. In May last year, Human Rights First awarded Karapatan the annual William D. Zabel Human Rights Award in recognition of its commitment to human rights in the Philippines.
Local activists report that Castro was arrested on February 18, 2022, in her home. She is still being detained and falsely accused of being a member of the central committee of the Communist Party.
“She is widely known for her human rights work and has been targeted by the government for her peaceful health work and human rights advocacy,” said Tinay Palabay, Secretary General of Karapatan.
The NGO has been targeted in recent years by the government. Fifteen human rights workers of Karapatan have been killed in the past five years, nearly 70 since 2001, and many more are imprisoned or are facing judicial harassment and threats because of their work in defending human rights.
“We know how dangerous it is for human rights defenders to be ‘red-tagged,’ i.e., labeled as Communists,” said Brian Dooley of HRF. “It makes them an instant target. It’s an intimidating tactic, as is arrest on fabricated charges. The U.S. government should urge the authorities in the Philippines to immediately release Maria Castro.”