Over 100 organizations write to Apple: Take down apps promoting EJKs, war on drugs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — Over a hundred organizations around the world sent an open letter to tech giant Apple asking it to take down gaming apps featuring President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war on drugs.

The letter, dated October 10 and addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, implored Apple to "immediately remove apps that are promoting murder, extrajudicial killings, violence, and the war on drugs in the Philippines."

It was signed by 131 human rights groups, rehabilitation centers, organizations representing drug users, and other related networks.

"We urgently request a formal review of the apps made available by Apple, and demand that you remove all the abovementioned games immediately and issue an apology for hosting such insensitive content," the letter read.

The apps include "Duterte vs. Zombies," "Duterte Fighting Crime 2," "Tsip Bato: Ang Bumangga Giba!," "Duterte Running Man Challenge," and "Duterte Knows Kung Fu: Pinoy Crime Fighter."

The games, also available on Google Play Store, commonly feature the President shooting down criminals or zombies. Other similar apps, such as "Duterterador" and "Duterte Shooting Crime," are also free on the app market.

"These games valorize and normalize the emerging tyranny of Duterte's presidency and his government's disregard for human rights principles," the letter.

"In virtual reality these games may seem harmless and fun, but when they are placed within the context of existing realities, of real murders of people and the impunity of law enforcement, then these games become offensive and distasteful," it added.

The news comes as a group of lawyers filed a petition before the Supreme Court to halt the country's war on drugs. It also comes after the Interior Department scrapped its suggested drop box scheme for criminal leads, following criticism that it would be susceptible to abuse.

The letter was sent through the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (AMPUD), a Thailand-based foundation established to represent drug users.

The AMPUD emphasizes the difference of drug users and dealers, and advocates for universal access to "evidence-based drug treatment [and] appropriate medical care" among other health measures.

The signatories hail from Australia, Cambodia, Nepal, India, Italy, Pakistan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uganda, among other countries.

Four organizations from the Philippines signed the letter, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) - National Center for Legal Aid. The IBP is the official organization of registered Philippine lawyers.

Against App Store guidelines?

The letter also argued the games violated Apple's App Store Review Guidelines provisions against content that target groups and depicted violence.

"As organizations and networks representing these communities, we find these depictions and promotions extremely shocking, especially given their divergence from Apple's strict guidelines that pertain to your apps," the letter read.

The organizations said two items under the "Objectionable content" of the guidelines' "Safety" section provided basis for removing the games.

Apple condemns apps that have "defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content." These include references to religion, race, gender, national or ethnic origin, or other targeted groups, "particularly if the app is likely to humiliate, intimidate, or place a targeted individual or group in harm's way."

The groups said the singling out of drug users indicates belief that they are "subhuman... zombies, and they do not have the right to life."

The guidelines also slam "realistic portrayals of people or animals being killed, maimed, tortured, or abused, or content that encourages violence."

"'Enemies' within the context of a game cannot solely target a specific race, culture, real government, corporation, or any other real entity," the guidelines add.

The letter said given the guidelines, the inclusion of apps on the store was "inappropriate" and "entirely incongruous with Apple's progressive and inclusive philosophies."

"It is unacceptable that Apple is tolerant to making profit out of people's unjust deaths and misery. We can only conclude that Apple is not aware that these apps are available in your store," the letter read.

Apple has yet to respond to the letter as of publishing time.

According to police figures, the Philippines' war on drugs has seen the deaths of almost 4,000 persons in police operations alone. In a statement earlier in October, police claimed only one out of 10 homicide cases are drug-related.

However, human rights watchdogs estimate as many as 13,000 dead in both police ops and vigilante-style killings.

Various international institutions, including members of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, have raised concern and condemned Duterte's drug war.