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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Senator Leila de Lima

Senator Leila de Lima

Detained Since: February 24, 2017

Charges: Conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading and sedition.

Sentence: None to date.

Biography: Senator Leila de Lima of the Philippines was a practicing lawyer before being appointed as the head of the National Human Rights Commission of the Philippines in 2008. While in this role, she opened an inquiry into now-President Duterte’s involvement in extrajudicial executions during his time as Mayor of Davao City. In the 2016 general elections, de Lima won a seat in the 24-member Senate. 

Shortly after President Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, Senator de Lima voiced her concern regarding the increasing number of killings of suspected drug offenders. Following this, the President and other state officials began a campaign of harassment, often gender-based, and intimidation against her, mainly through public statements and a probe by the Lower House on drug trafficking inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Undeterred, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Senator de Lima opened a Senate Inquiry into the unlawful killings committed in the context of the “war on drugs” and called in key witnesses, as well as self-confessed members of the Davao Death Squads, to testify before the Senate in September 2016. Shortly after, allies of President Duterte brought ten people, seven of them prison inmates, to testify before Congress that drug money was paid to de Lima’s driver to help fund her senate campaign. It was later revealed that, following their testimony, prison inmates received benefits in jail.

On February 24, 2017, Senator de Lima surrendered to the authorities at the Senate, a day after the police tried to serve the arrest warrant against her at her house. Initially facing three charges under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 for the non-bailable offense of trafficking drugs, her charges were recently changed to ‘conspiracy’ to trade drugs. If found guilty, she faces a maximum of life imprisonment. Senator de Lima has consistently denied the charges and has dismissed the allegations as an attempt by the President and his political allies to silence and discredit her.

On July 18, 2019 the Philippine National Police filed sedition charges against 36 high profile figures, which included the Vice President, Senator Leila de Lima, prominent Catholic bishops, lawyers, and other public figures. The charges accuse the respondents of “spreading lies against the President, his family, and close associates, making them appear as illegal drug trade protectors.” The sedition charges followed the United Nations Human Rights Council July 11, 2019 vote to investigate the thousands of extrajudicial killings committed in the name of Philippine government’s brutal anti-drugs campaign. These sedition charges have been seen by many as a way for President Duterte to silence all his critics.

Advocate: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA)

Advocacy Partner: Amnesty International USA


  • The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hosted a briefing titled Parliamentarians at Risk Around the World with a presentation by Vicente de Lima, brother of imprisoned Senator Leila de Lima (September 19, 2019, TLHRC). 
  • The US Senate voted to pass a resolution condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila De Lima calling for her immediate release (January 8, 2020, US Senate).
  • A court in Muntinlupa acquitted Senator Leila de Lima in one of her 3 conspiracy to commit drug trading charges. She remains detained on the remaining two charges (February 17, 2021, Rappler). 
  • In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for the release of leading human rights advocate Sen. Leila de Lima who has now spent four years languishing in prison (March 22, 2021). 
  • In a letter led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), 10 Senators wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press the Philippine government to end the unjust detention of Senator De Lima.
  • Senator de Lima ran her reelection campaign from prison, however she lost the election on May 9, 2022. Her term will end on June 30, 2022 (May 10, 2022, Rappler).
  • Three witnesses have recanted their testimony against the Senator, leading to increased calls for her release (May 16, 2022, CNN Philippines).
  • A court dismissed a 2020 petition from government prosecutors to hold Senator de Lima and her lawyer in contempt for "attempting to influence the outcome of the case" (May 27, 2022)
  • On June 14, 2022, during a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) voiced his continued support for multiple Defending Freedoms Project prisoners of concience, including Raif Badawi, Senator Leila de Lima, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Ahmed Mansoor (June 14, 2022).