Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved tough anti-terrorism legislation on Friday that rights groups condemned as a weapon to target opponents and stifle free speech, Karen Lema and Martin Petty wrote for Reuters late on Friday, July 3.

The law grants security forces sweeping powers to act to fight militants, while legal experts say broad articles could allow discriminatory enforcement, privacy infringements and suppression of peaceful dissent, including on social media, as well as the seizure of the assets of the accused. Human rights watchdog Karapatan slammed Duterte for signing it, along with Bayan Muna, Anakbayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) and a raft of other organizations that organized protest rallies on Saturday, July 4.

Duterte's approval comes after a United Nations (UN) report on the Philippines that singled him out for publicly inciting violence and encouraging rights abuses, mostly during a war on drugs in which he promised to kill 100,000 people and pardon police who shoot suspects dead.

His opponents fear a crackdown on challengers to his popular autocracy before he leaves office in 2022, among them journalists, lawmakers, priests and activists seeking his international indictment over thousands of drug war killings. The law creates an anti-terrorism council appointed by the president, which can designate individuals and groups as terrorists and detain them without charge for up to 24 days. It allows for 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps, and punishments that include life imprisonment without parole. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet had urged Duterte not to sign it. Human Rights Watch called the law a "green light to the systematic targeting of political critics and opponents" and said Duterte had "pushed Philippine democracy into an abyss." Amnesty International called it "a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state," which would "worsen attacks against human rights defenders."