From time to time, important newsmakers will send The Brody File exclusive op-ed pieces addressing key issues that involve the intersection of faith and politics.
Sen. Marco Rubio has exclusively reached out to The Brody File on the issue of the persecution of political prisoners around the globe. Read below.
Political Prisoners Everywhere Deserve America’s Support
By Senator Marco Rubio
Every day, Americans go about our business blessed to live in the freest society in history. For us, it is sometimes easy to forget that the freedoms we enjoy are deliberately trampled on in other parts of the world. While we are able to freely criticize our government and influence its decisions, other people go to jail and get beaten up for attempting to do the same thing.
These political prisoners are innocent people who only pose a threat to the cruel and repressive regimes that are eventually destined to fail. They are men and women, fathers and mothers, young and old. They are people with dreams of a better life and the courage to demand the conditions to achieve it. Yet, they languish in prisons, subjected to squalor conditions, routine beatings, malnourishment and demoralizing isolation.
Political prisoners are currently in jail all over the world, in places as distant as China, North Korea, Iran and Syria. But some are as close to the U.S. as just 90 miles away, as hundreds of Cuban political prisoners languish in Castro’s jails. These are some of their stories.
In China, dissident Liu Xiaobo, a long-time advocate of political reform and human rights, has been detained, placed under house arrest and imprisoned many times for his writings and activism. He is currently serving an 11 year sentence for writing a bold initiative for democracy called Charter 08, which commemorated the 60th anniversary of the UN adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In North Korea, an estimated 200,000 people are held in prison camps, with many not even knowing what alleged “crimes” they have committed. According to reports from former prisoners at one such camp, the Yodok prison in South Hamkhung province, prisoners are forced to work in slave-like conditions and are subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, including cubic “torture cells” where it is impossible to either stand or lie down. Death is rampant, as all detainees at Yodok have witnessed public executions and an estimated 40 percent of inmates died from malnutrition between 1999 and 2001.
In Iran, the Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 for protesting an Iranian law that forced his Christian children to read the Quran in school. He was charged with apostasy and has been sentenced to death by hanging. This week marked his 1,000th day of imprisonment.
In Syria, the world has been aghast at the massacre of innocent civilians unleashed by Assad. But thousands more whose lives have been spared now find themselves as political prisoners of the Assad regime. Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report on torture and detention centers throughout Syria entitled “Torture Archipelago”. They reported over 25,000 detentions, including 575 people who have died in custody since March 2011. One particular testimony from Amer, a 23-year-old man from a town in the Idlib governorate, captured the sheer brutality of the regime as experienced during his 42-day detention in the Political Security Branch in Latakia:
“They undressed me, tied my hands behind my back, and hit me on my private parts. They clipped my hands to a metal pipe and lifted me so that my feet hardly touched the floor. They kept me like that for two days. When they released me I couldn’t stand, my feet were completely swollen. I then spent five days in a single cell with six other people. After that 15 officers took me to a separate room. They were cursing my mother and sister and threatened to rape me. They put me on a basat al-reeh – I was lying on my back, tied to a board, and they lifted my head and legs. All this time I was undressed. They wrapped wires around my penis and turned on the electricity. I could just hear it buzzing. They did this maybe five times for about 10 seconds. I passed out. When I regained consciousness they were pushing my legs and hands into a tire. My entire body was blue from beatings.”
In Cuba, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported earlier this year that at least 4,123 short-term, politically motivated detentions took place in 2011, almost double the number from 2010. This does not even include American citizen Alan Gross who has been locked up since 2009 for simply trying to help the Jewish community on the island access the Internet. Repression is getting worse in Cuba, not better. There are countless stories that emerge every day about families torn apart by a cruel regime, and the brave men and women defiantly standing up for their God-given rights. One example is Wilman Villar Mendoza, a peaceful dissident who died earlier this year following a 56-day hunger strike to highlight his arbitrary arrest and the repression of basic human and civil rights in Cuba by the Castro regime. His “crime” was participating in a peaceful demonstration in his hometown in Eastern Cuba calling for greater political freedom.
These are but a few examples of brave individuals who represent the pain and suffering of thousands more political prisoners around the world. They are just some of the faces and stories that should compel the U.S. to lead an international effort to draw more attention to these abuses, provide our unwavering support and take concrete actions to help them.
To start, the U.S. must continue to lead by example. One of our most powerful tools is our promotion and defense of democratic values and institutions around the world. It’s no coincidence that countries without strong democratic institutions are exploited by strongmen and authoritarian regimes who rule with an iron fist and destroy anyone who stands in their way. The U.S. has a moral responsibility to speak out when democracies are being undermined, while encouraging our allies and foes alike to commit to a path towards democracy.
We must use our position as the world’s leading power to make our citizens and the entire world aware of these causes. We must speak with a unified voice in condemning unjust imprisonments and murders committed by tyrants. We must be their voices to the world and shame their repressors any chance we get. We must make their plight our own. And we should always aspire to live up to the example of human rights advocates like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. During a visit to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov reportedly approached the American delegation asking who among them was “Kirkpatski.” When Sakharov found her, he seized her hands and said emotionally, “Your name is known in every cell of the gulag.”
In political prisons and torture chambers all over the world today, political prisoners need similar hope and the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their struggle because America stands with them.