A Russian court on Tuesday convicted top opposition leader Alexei Navalny of fraud and contempt of court, sentencing him to nine more years in prison in a move that was seen as an attempt to keep President Vladimir Putin’s biggest foe behind bars for as long as possible, AP reports.
Navalny’s team reported that the video stream from the court went dead just as he was about to quote the novelist Lev Tolstoy: “Despotism creates war and war supports despotism. Those who want to fight against war should only fight against despotism.”
Navalny’s latest conviction came as Freedom House launched a new initiative to liberate political prisoners around the world, with a particular focus on human rights defenders (HRDs), including journalists, dissidents, opposition activists, and others who promote human rights and democracy in authoritarian contexts.
In 2020, a group of global and regional nongovernmental organizations warned that thousands of HRDs and prisoners of conscience were imprisoned worldwide, Freedom House notes. In October 2021, the office of the UN’s special rapporteur on HRDs reported that it was pursuing the cases of 148 people serving long-term prison sentences, but it warned that many more cases went undocumented.
“Authoritarian governments have grown increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to silence dissent and even mere criticism,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Increasingly, autocratic regimes are dispensing with the façade of democracy—from sham elections to kangaroo courts—and are pursuing more repressive policies, including openly imprisoning human rights defenders, prodemocracy activists, and journalists.”
In Myanmar (aka Burma), as of March 22, 2022, a total of (9835) people are currently under detention, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports. 868 people have been sentenced in person, of them 52 have been sentenced to death (incl. 2 children). 1973 are evading arrest warrants. 118 people have been sentenced in absentia, of them 39 sentenced to death in absentia. In total 91 sentenced to death, in person and absentia.
Tibetan writer Kunchok Tsephel (right), jailed for 15 years for writings deemed separatist by Chinese authorities, has been released two years before finishing his sentence, with no word immediately available regarding his present state of health, RFA reports.
“He is back with his family now, but we still don’t know about his current health condition,” said Tsering Tsomo, director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).
Following 50 days with no communication, Nicaragua’s authoritarian regime has finally allowed political prisoners a visit, Confidencial reports (above). These prisoners have been locked in the El Chipote prison ever since their arrest between June and November of 2021.
The Freedom House program will highlight the use of imprisonment as an instrument in the authoritarian toolbox.
“Activists need immediate protection from the threat of imprisonment, but they also need long-term support when they are imprisoned, such as legal representation, humanitarian aid, familial support, and reentry services upon release,” said Margaux Ewen, Freedom House’s director of the political prisoners’ initiative.
The law firm of Covington & Burling is acting as a “catalyst donor” for the expansion of this work.
“This initiative will make a vital contribution to the cause of freeing human rights defenders and combating the global threat of political imprisonment,” said Alfred H. Moses, a leading partner at the firm, who donated $5 million to fund the initiative. Additional support came from the Gideon Foundation and the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism.