Irish priest defends 'innocent' man sentenced to 12 years in Philippines for 0.38g of cannabis
An Irish priest in the Philippines has said that that an Irish man imprisoned there is entirely innocent and is being held because he refused to pay a bribe.
Eanna O’Cochlain (55) is under house arrest in the Philippines for drugs possession charges. Police stopped him at the airport in July, 2013, and said that he was attempting to smuggle two marijuana cigarettes out of the country.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crime. Eanna went on hunger strike in protest at the sentence at the time, and was released on bail.
The judge seized his passport following the conviction and now two years later Eanna is still trapped in the Philippines.
Irish missionary Fr Shay Cullen said that the Philippines is a very corrupt country, and that Mr Cochlan is undoubtedly innocent.
“The problem [in the Phillipines] is corruption goes on at all levels: there is corruption at the level of the police, at the Department of Justice… and the judges,” Fr Cullen told RTÉ’s Dave Fanning this morning.
Fr Cullen said that Eanna’s refusal to pay a bribe to anyone is what resulted in his imprisonment.
“[He is] a very pleasant guy, very highly educated, a man of very stubborn principles… and that’s what got him into all this trouble,” he said.
The priest said that the case could be resolved through ‘behind the scenes’ diplomacy and continued media focus on the case.
“Whatever [the Irish Government] can do they should do it quicker. Their Irish diplomacy behind the scenes is something that they can really do well,” he said.
“Behind the scenes friends will call friends and people will call people and this will all be solved by the phone.”
The Nobel Prize nominee said that continued pressure is needed from the media and activists to ensure Eanna gets fair treatment.
“No matter how hopeless is it - you’re a voice in the wilderness - but we’ve got to keep that voice alive and keep fighting for justice,” he said.
Eanna has previously said that he will die in prison if he has to go there, due to their dietary restrictions.
“I’m 55 years of age, I’ve got chronic obstructive airways disease and IBS bowel disease - there’s no way will I survive in prison,” he told RTÉ a month ago.
“Basically they’ve sentenced me to death for 0.38g of marijuana that the police planted on me.”
Eanna’s mother, brother and sister have all died in the past eight months and he wasn’t able to attend the funerals.
He has appealed the Irish Government to intervene in his case.
In a statement to RTÉ, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that they were unable to intervene in another country’s court system but were providing consular assistance to Eanna and his family.