PHOTOS showing hundreds of inmates in a Philippine jail made to strip naked for an inspection are causing an uproar and triggering accusations of further human rights abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s rule.
The photos, depicting naked prisoners sitting on the ground in the prison yard, many with their hands raised above their heads, were leaked by prison guards in an attempt to discredit the operation, the head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said on Thursday, as reported by the Philippine Star.
“It was intentionally leaked out to discredit drug enforcement agencies. I think they have a connection with the drug syndicate,” PDEA General Isidro Lapeña said in a televised phone interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel.
Lapeña also said that it was PDEA Regional Director Yogi Ruiz who ordered the inmates stripped naked to prevent riots.
According to the Philippine Star, inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre (CPDRC) were awoken from their sleep before dawn, gathered in the jail quadrangle where they were stripped naked as the officers from the national police, drug enforcement agency and the military searched the cells for contraband.
The PDEA considered the raid a success, with them netting mobile phones, sachets of ‘shabu’ (meth amphetamine), laptops, and cash amounting to PHP92,000 (US$1,900).
But as the photos of the raid have circulated on social media, human rights groups have voiced concern that this is another example of Duterte’s disregard for basic human rights.
Amnesty International, in a statement released Thursday, reminded the Philippine authorities that it is “state obligation” to guarantee that prisoners are treated “in accordance with international standards.”
“This incident clearly amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners.”
According to AFP (via Rappler), Human Rights Watch (HRW) also stated that the actions seen in the photos were prohibited by international standards that require searches to not intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy.
“The conduct of these searches – out in the open and permitting photographs to be taken – was inhuman and degrading and violated the prisoners’ rights to privacy,” HRW said in a statement.
The Philippine authorities have defended their measures under the mounting criticism. Provincial government information officer Jethro Bacolod told AFP the mass stripping was “an SOP”, or standard operating procedure for raids to detect contraband.
Since his inauguration in June, Duterte has been conducting a nationwide crackdown on crime and drug use in the country. 7,700 people suspected of being drug dealers or users have been killed by police officers or vigilantes.
Rather than condemn the killings, Duterte has openly condoned the extrajudicial killings, leading rights groups to accuse him of crimes against humanity.