Top U.S. lawyer on Manila "Al Qaeda" blacklist group
Date of publication: September 28, 2007
By Manny Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has put rights activists, including a former U.S. attorney-general and members of church groups, on an immigration blacklist drawn up ostensibly to stop terrorists from entering, a rights group said on Friday.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Manila was trying to stymie criticism at a time when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in the spotlight because of political violence against her opponents.
The blacklist labeled "Al-Qaeda/Taliban Link" of 504 people from 50 countries was imposed between July 25 and August 10, 2007, when Manila hosted a meeting of Southeast Asian ministers, Human Rights Watch said on its Web site, www.hrw.org.
It included members of church groups in Europe, Australia and the United States, left-wing activists, lawyers and unionists. Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general, was among those banned from entry.
Human Rights Watch said it obtained a copy of the blacklist from a lawyer who had petitioned the immigration department to remove his client from it.
A spokesman of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a blacklist existed to prevent people disrupting the December 2006 and July 2007 summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"We will look into the requests of Human Rights Watch," the spokesman told reporters. "We're not aware of any policy banning them because they were members of, or were being linked with, al Qaeda or the Taliban."
A senior immigration official said most of the names on the list were "leftists".
"We're just implementing orders from our superiors," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Human Rights Watch said it was not clear whether any blacklist was still in effect, but Sophie Richardson, the group's Asia advocacy director, urged the Philippines to stop preventing peaceful critics to enter the country.
"The Philippine government has the right and duty to protect its citizens from genuine security threat," Richardson said in the statement.
"But labeling peaceful critics as al Qaeda or Taliban only serves to sap public confidence in counter-terror measures and expose them as a cover for suppressing dissent."