The death of a three-month-old baby separated from her jailed mother despite pleas to keep the pair together has provoked an outpouring of anger in the Philippines.
Reina Mae Nasino, a human rights worker for an urban poverty group, Kadamay, was arrested in November 2019 on charges of illegally possessing firearms and explosives along with two fellow activists.
They have denied the claims and said the arms were planted by police to frame them.
Nasino who did not know she was already pregnant during the time of her arrest, later discovered she was in her first trimester during a medical check-up in prison.
Her daughter was born in July 2020 but was separated from her mother in mid-August. Under Philippine law a child born in custody can remain with the mother for only one month.
Last week, the infant named River died of pneumonia.
Nasino was granted a furlough of three days for her daughter’s burial. It was later reduced to “two days at three hours each” after the Manila City Jail (MCJ) intervened in the courts, opposing an earlier decision.
On Wednesday, Philippines social media was flooded with videos of Nasino visiting the hospital to see her daughter’s body. When she tried talking to media present in the hospital, jail officials tried to block the interview and take her away.
Human rights collective Karapatan said in a statement that the reduction of Nasino’s furlough was a “merciless act of torture and injustice”.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that “nothing could be more cruel than giving a grieving mother such false hope”.
“They have already put Reina Mae Nasino through so much pain and suffering, from jailing her on false charges, taking Baby River away from her a few weeks after giving birth, refusing to let her be with her baby’s dying moments,” she said.
“Jail authorities are using all sorts of alibis such as the supposed lack of personnel, funds, or facilities just to deliberately and inhumanely prolong the agony of a mother grieving the death of her child. We are at loss for words for this appalling cold-heartedness. They are killing Baby River over and over,” said Palabay.
“We reassert our call to drop all the fabricated charges against her, to hold accountable all those responsible for her arrest and the death of Baby River, and to free her and all political prisoners on just and humanitarian grounds. We must not let this injustice continue and claim another innocent life,” Palabay said.
Over the past few months, several attempts had been made seeking Nasino’s release. The initial plea was made in April 2020 seeking temporary release of 22 political prisoners who were vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Subsequently, pleas were filed in court to allow her and her infant daughter to stay together in a hospital or at the MCJ, but they were rejected.
Fides Lim, the chief of Kapatid, a support group of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines, told BBC News that River’s health began to worsen last month. She was then hospitalised on 24 September, but even then Nasino was not allowed permission to see her daughter. (Source: Independent UK)