Sunday 20 August 2017

Irish priest tells of death threats over his battle with sex traffickers

Father Shay Cullen Picture: Mark Condren
Father Shay Cullen Picture: Mark Condren

Sarah MacDonald

An Irish priest who has won numerous international awards for his work saving children in the Philippines from paedophiles and sex traffickers has received a number of death threats in recent months.

Fr Shay Cullen told TDs and senators in Leinster House last week that there are death squads everywhere in the south east Asian country and that the president, Rodrigo Duterte, has vowed to kill three million people, if necessary in his war on drugs. "This guy is a real killer," Fr Cullen said in his Oireachtas presentation.

Fr Cullen explained that those "working to protect young people and give them sanctuary by taking them off the streets are in danger".

Mr Duterte has told human rights workers and journalists that if they get assassinated they "deserve it".

Some 8,000 people have been killed since June 2016, many of them drug-addicted teenagers, with vigilantes making money from the killings.

"I got a death threat only a couple of weeks ago," the Columban missionary revealed.

Following an investigation, it was discovered that the death threats were part of an attempt at extorting money from his PREDA Foundation for street children and children who have been sexually abused.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said the situation in the Philippines is "dangerous" because the president is very sensitive to criticism and "everyone is vulnerable", with bishops, human rights workers and media workers all being threatened.

As a journalist, Fr Cullen said he felt under pressure for highlighting injustices.

"It is an occupational hazard," he said.

"We do get these death threats - some turn out to be a hoax which makes us very nervous because sometimes you don't know if it is a hoax."

His exposé of the abuses of the sex industry also made him the target of threats because it challenged those making "big money" out of exploiting and trafficking children and women.

Independent TD for Dublin Central Maureen O'Sullivan said it was "absolutely horrific" to think that politicians in the Philippines were "complicit" in child sexual abuse, in the trafficking of women and in the drugs trade.

Shooting

"I represent a constituency where we have a lot of addiction and drug dealing. Shooting people is just not the way to deal with it," she said.

One image 74-year-old Fr Cullen showed to politicians was of two girls aged about 12 years, whose virginity had been advertised recently on the internet and for which a bidding war had ensued.

He warned that children as young as eight were imprisoned in jails and brothels.

"The latest thing is using children for cyber sex," Fr Cullen said.

"Children being made to perform sexual acts on video, which is being paid for by people in other countries through agencies.

"Legislators should be focusing on how to combat this, and the trafficking of young children and women," he added.

Irish Independent

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