SEVEN DISSIDENTS, JOURNALISTS, AND REBELS WHO DEFIED AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES IN 2016

[12/29/16]  2016 was a difficult year in many parts of the world for those who sought to be different under authoritarian regimes. Whether Communists, Islamists, or the religious intolerance of their own families, these individuals took a stand and, in some cases, paid the ultimate price to advocate for freedom.

They are not the only ones who took a stand, but theirs are stories of resilience and commitment to freedom in a world beleaguered by threats to individual rights and liberties.

Venezuela: Lilian Tintori

The wife of Popular Will opposition party leader Leopoldo López has traveled the world seeking justice for her husband and Venezuela’s other political prisoners, arrested for refusing to bow to the nation’s socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro. López was sentenced to 13 years in prison in September 2015 for organizing peaceful protests against Maduro in 2014. He lost an appeal in August and has remained in isolation in the country’s notorious Ramo Verde prison for much of his detention, subject to what international human rights courts have deemed torture. Tintori, too, has been subject to degrading treatment at Ramo Verde, forced to strip naked before guards and groped by police guards.

Tintori, meanwhile, has continued to help organize the protests that landed López in prison. She has taken her case from the Huffington Post to the Mexican Senate to the Vatican this year, chaining herself to the gates of St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis did not meet with her, though he met with Maduro earlier this year.

Turkey: Selahattin Demirtaş

 The head of the center-left People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which made headlines last year by denying the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of a legislative majority, tested the free speech rights of his country by calling the AKP “an extension of ISIS” and accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of attempting to establish “a caliphate.” Erdogan’s rule has been marked by an increase in the number of prosecutions against individuals for “insulting the president” and an alarming crackdown on opposition media.

Erdogan repeatedly accused Demirtaş and his party of an alliance with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group. Demirtaş promised to resign if the government could prove the allegation. It never did – instead, Erdogan ordered the arrests of Demirtaş, his co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ, and dozens of other HDP politicians. The few HDP politicians who have yet to be arrested protest that Demirtaş is being kept in isolation in prison, which they claim is a form of torture. He remains in prison on unspecified charges of “terrorism.”


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