SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Thursday defended its most senior intelligence chief after he was pictured posing with a clenched fist alongside Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, an image rights groups said undermines criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs.
Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service Nick Warner met Duterte in Manila on Tuesday, where he was photographed mirroring Duterte’s clenched fist pose.
The president’s clenched pose was used throughout his 2016 presidential campaign during which he promised to use deadly force to wipe out crime and drugs.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Warner was complying with a request from Duterte and the image did not weaken Canberra’s criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte’s ferocious 14-month-old war on drugs has seen thousands of Filipinos killed, many in what critics say are suspicious circumstances.
“On both occasions that I’ve met with President Duterte I’ve raised the issue of human rights and the extrajudicial killings,” Bishop told reporters in the city of Perth.
Amnesty International said Australia must do more to try to curtail the firebrand Philippine leader.
“Australia is sending mixed messages amid an incredible spike in killings of the Philippines poorest people,” said Michael Hayworth, a human rights campaigner at Amnesty International.
“Australia must condemn in the strongest terms the killings by Philippines police of people without trial.”
Since Duterte took office, more than 3,500 people have been killed in what the Philippine National Police (PNP) says were gunfights with drug suspects who had resisted arrests.
The PNP says some 2,000 more people were killed in other, drug-related violence that it denies involvement in. Human rights advocates, however, say the death toll could be far higher than police say.
Philippine presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the clenched-fist photo reflected the friendly nature of the meeting and the warm relationship between the two countries.
“It was done in a light-hearted manner,” Abella told reporters. “It wasn’t meant to be in any way political.”
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry