An Australian locked in a Philippine jail for more than four years without trial says his bid for freedom is being hampered by a spate of extra-judicial killings.
Troy Birthisel, aged 48, from Boyne, Queensland, was arrested at Cebu Airport in October 2013 on suspicion of trafficking sex workers.
He says he was merely accompanying his girlfriend and a group of her friends to Singapore, where they had legitimate job interviews arranged.
Since then he has been held in Lapu-Lapu City jail in Cebu, waiting for his day in court.
An update a fundraising page set up to help cover his legal fees yesterday (Sunday, May 20), said a spate of shooting incidents in Cebu City had caused the already slow-turning wheels of justice to grind almost entirely to a halt.
The message said: “The major delay have come from outside influences of extra judicial killings in the Cebu community.
“Troy’s attorney of law has had three clients shot and killed in this time. One was gunned down this week on the way home from court. Two others were killed within 500 metres of the jail, after making bail. Additionally another attorney was killed in Cebu after finishing court.
“These killings, and the individual cases, are in no way related to Troy or his case. But what they have done is prevented Troy and his attorneys meeting to progress the case.”
The message added that the attorneys had cancelled all prison visits for security reasons.
As we have previously reported, Mr Birthisel insists he is an innocent victim of corrupt officials.
He said the arresting officer at the airport had tried to extort money from him, and that the friends of his girlfriend had been intimidated into making allegations against him.
After his arrest, prosecutors claimed the former mining executive operated a Facebook account under the name “George Morrell” to recruit Filipinos for work in Singaporean brothels.
“Lovely Modina and Troy Birthisel recruited and transported [the six women] for overseas employment when in truth they were not authorised,” assistant prosecutor Geronima Baringou told the court during a December 2013 hearing.
However, the prosecution team dropped the charges of human trafficking, citing lack of evidence. Instead, Mr Birthisel is now charged with “illegal recruitment involving economic sabotage” — a crime that could potentially carry a life sentence.
“It’s not a nice thing to be called a human trafficker and a sex slaver. I’ve lost my family, I’ve lost everything,” Mr Birthisel said last year.
“There is not one piece of evidence to show involvement in human trafficking. It’s disgusting to be honest.”
Mr Birthisel’s girlfriend Lovely is also accused of conspiring to commit the same crime, and has also been locked up since October 2013.
Of the six women who were travelling with the pair, four have officially retracted their allegations against the couple.
They now say police confiscated their passports and made them feel “afraid” while making their complaints. Of the other two women, Mr Birthisel said, one had “gone underground” while the other continued to work with prosecutors.
“I’m entitled to a day in court and should I be convicted then, fine, I’ll wear that. I don’t believe I’m guilty of anything and I’ve got evidence to say that I’m not.
“I’ve actually got evidence, and they don’t even have evidence,” Mr Birthisel said.
Contributors to Mr Birthisel’s fundraising page have so far donated nearly $4,300 towards a $15,000 goal.
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