#WithoutJustCause Political Prisoners Campaign
Here we share the stories of people who have been imprisoned for exercising their human rights. These individuals highlight the growing authoritarian efforts to silence dissent and suppress fundamental freedoms. Countless political prisoners around the world are subjected to torture, inhumane conditions, enforced disappearance, or other forms of abuse. Their families yearn to be reunited with their imprisoned loved ones. We can’t let that continue. That’s why the United States has launched the #WithoutJustCause political prisoners campaign, building on our commitments at the first Summit for Democracy. From Washington, D.C. to our embassies and consulates around the world, we’re advocating for the release of these and all political prisoners through public diplomacy, bilateral engagement, outreach in international organizations, and meetings with other governments, NGOs, and political prisoners’ families. Read on below to learn about these political prisoners’ stories and what you can do to help.
- Gulshan Abbas
- Rania Al-Abbasi
- Bishop Rolando Álvarez
- Ekpar Asat
- Emirlendris Benítez
- Ales Bialiatski
- Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo
- Juan Sebastián Chamorro
- Mohamed El-Baqer
- José Daniel Ferrer
- Violeta Granera
- Go Sherab Gyatso
- Ding Jiaxi
- Maria Kalesnikava
- Vladimir Kara-Murza
- Kim Kuk-gi
- Ihar Losik
- Elchin Mammad
- Mansur Mingelov
- Narges Mohammadi
- Kem Sokha
- Phạm Đoan Trang
- Buzurgmehr Yorov
Dr. Gulshan Abbas is a retired physician and ethnic Uyghur who disappeared from her home in China’s western region of Xinjiang in September 2018. Dr. Abbas has preexisting medical conditions that require regular care. In December 2020, her family learned that authorities from the People’s Republic of China imprisoned Dr. Abbas and held a secret trial in March 2019 where she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the unfounded charge of “taking part in organized terrorism, aiding terrorist activities and seriously disrupting social order.” #WithoutJustCause
Dr. Rania Al-Abbasi is a dentist and Syrian national chess champion. When the conflict in Syria began in 2011, Rania vowed to stay in Syria to support her local community and raise her children there. On March 9, 2013, members of the Assad regime’s Military Security branch in Damascus came to her home and arrested Dr. Al-Abbasi’s husband, Abdul Rahman Yasin, without indicating any reason. On March 11, 2013, heavily armed members of the Military Security branch returned to arrest Dr. Al-Abbasi and her six children, who ranged from one to 14 years old at the time. Dr. Al-Abbasi’s family believes she and her family were arrested for offering humanitarian assistance to a displaced family. She had not been active in demonstrations or political activities. The fate and whereabouts of Dr. Al-Abbasi, her husband, and six children remains unknown to this day. She and her family, along with all others unjustly detained in Syria, must be released without delay, and the regime must clarify the fates of the myriad others who remain missing and unaccounted for. Rania Al-Abbasi is detained #WithoutJustCause.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez has been a political prisoner since August 2022, while targeted attacks against the Catholic Church and opponents of the Nicaraguan regime continue today. In February, Bishop Álvarez – who refused to leave his country when the regime released over 200 other political prisoners to the United States – was stripped of his nationality and sentenced to 26 years in prison under politically motivated charges, including treason. He remains incommunicado in a maximum-security prison in poor conditions as his lawyers appeal the charges. We echo calls by many Nicaraguans and the international community to immediately and unconditionally release Bishop Álvarez. #WithoutJustCause
People’s Republic of China
It’s been six years since Uyghur entrepreneur and philanthropist Ekpar Asat was imprisoned by the People’s Republic of China and reportedly sentenced to 15 years for inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination. He was held in solitary confinement for more than three years before being allowed to contact his family. We call for Ekpar’s immediate and unconditional release so that he can be reunited with his loved ones, who are gravely concerned for his health and well-being. #WithoutJustCause
Emirlendris Benítez is a 40-year-old Venezuelan mother and businesswoman unjustly detained since August 2018. Pregnant at the time of her arrest, her captors reportedly physically abused her, causing her to lose her pregnancy. In August 2022, the Maduro regime unjustly condemned her to a 30-year sentence. Due to the alleged severe beatings, she now struggles to walk and uses a wheelchair. Ms. Benítez needs urgent medical attention, which the Maduro regime continues to deny. She and all political prisoners should be freed. #WithoutJustCause #JailedForWhat
Decades-long human rights activist and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Belarus. His “crime?” Leading human rights organization Viasna, in providing financial and legal support to jailed demonstrators and documenting authorities’ abuses following the fraudulent 2020 presidential election in Belarus. Belarusian authorities designated Viasna as an “extremist” group for its work in exposing the regime’s abuses and repression. Arrested in July 2021, Bialiatski was held in pre-trial detention for almost two years before he was tried behind closed doors. In October 2022, Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but was not able to accept the award due to his detention. Bialiatski is reportedly being held incommunicado, denied visits from his family and his attorney. Four other members of Viasna’s staff are also political prisoners in Belarus, including Vice Chairman Valianstin Stefanovich, volunteer coordinator Marfa Rabkova, attorney Uladzimir Labkovich, and volunteer Andrei Chapiuk. They are among the more than 1,500 political prisoners held by the Lukashenka regime. We join the international community in calling for the release of Ales Bialiatski and all others unjustly detained in Belarus simply for exercising their human rights. Ales Bialiatski is detained #WithoutJustCause. #FreeBelarus
Afro-Cuban musician and writer Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo won a Latin Grammy Award while imprisoned in a Cuban jail cell as a political prisoner of the Cuban regime. He was reportedly sentenced in June 2022 to eight years on politically motivated charges of evading police custody and sharing social media critical of the government. He helped pen the hit protest song Patria y Vida which quickly became an anthem of pro-democracy activists and won Song of the Year at the 2021 Latin Grammys. He was arrested in May 2021 following months of police harassment, including intensive surveillance, movement restrictions, and “preventative” detention. Listen to Patria y Vida. #WithoutJustCause #JailedForWhat
He’s an economist, businessman, politician and … a political prisoner. In June 2021, Nicaraguan Juan Sebastián Chamorro was unjustly imprisoned by the Ortega-Murillo regime, along with dozens of other activists and political figures. The regime continues to deny Nicaraguans the rights to freedom of expression and to take part in the government of their country through elections. Ortega is scared of a fair election and of any criticism of his rule. Chamorro allegedly remains in deplorable conditions and without medical assistance. In February 2022 he was condemned to a 13-year sentence on the politically motivated charge of “conspiracy to undermine Nicaragua’s national integrity.” #WithoutJustCause #JailedForWhat
Mohamed El-Baqer, human rights lawyer and founder of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, has spent his career defending the fundamental freedoms of Egyptians. He has been detained for over 1,000 days since 2019 after the Egyptian government brought free expression and terrorism charges against him while he defended imprisoned human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah in court. Following his arrest, Mr. El-Baqer’s detention was extended repeatedly through the unjust practice of bringing additional similar criminal charges so authorities can circumvent legal limits on pre-trial confinement. Mr. El-Baqer was denied release in February 2020 after the Egyptian government appealed a criminal court’s recommendation that he be freed, and in November 2020 Egyptian authorities arbitrarily added him to Egypt’s terrorist list, banning him from travel and freezing his assets. In December 2021 a so-called emergency court sentenced Mr. El-Baqer to four years in prison on charges based on his exercise of freedom of expression, following numerous delays and denials of fair trial guarantees, including preventing consultations with his legal team. Throughout his detention, prison authorities reportedly have threatened and mistreated Mr. El-Baqer and limited his access to the outside world through near-total confinement to his cell. Mohamed El-Baqer is detained #WithoutJustCause.
Reportedly jailed and beaten for championing democratic reform in Cuba, internationally recognized human rights defender José Daniel Ferrer has been in solitary confinement for over a year after trying to join the historic July 11, 2021 demonstrations. He is the founder and Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and was previously imprisoned as part of the Group of 75 in a 2003 government crackdown commonly known as the Black Spring. He reportedly suffers from multiple health conditions. Cuba must free him and all political prisoners. #WithoutJustCause #JailedForWhat
In June 2021, Violeta Granera was arrested in a sudden, sweeping crackdown on opposition leaders. Approaching 70, she remains detained in the infamous El Chipote prison while the Ortega-Murillo regime investigates her for “attacking Nicaraguan society.” Granera is a prominent opposition leader and member of the Blue and White National Unity group. She worked in the democratic administration of former president Enrique Bolaños and has championed the rule of law and electoral reform in Nicaragua. #WithoutJustCause #JailedForWhat
People’s Republic of China
Go Sherab Gyatso — a religious philosopher, educator, and monk at the Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture — was reportedly sentenced by the PRC government in November 2021 to 10 years in prison for his peaceful advocacy. He has been detained four times, including reportedly for possessing and displaying a portrait of the Dalai Lama. The United States remains concerned that Go Sherab Gyatso’s health is declining and urges the PRC to immediately and unconditionally release him. #WithoutJustCause
People’s Republic of China
Mr. Ding Jiaxi’s human rights advocacy in the People’s Republic of China goes back over a decade when he helped begin the New Citizen’s Movement, which supported independent candidates to run in local elections, launched campaigns calling for government officials to disclose their personal finances, called for property rights, and demanded educational access for migrant children. On April 10, PRC courts sentenced Ding Jiaxi to 12 years in prison for “subversion of state power” after being detained in 2019 for his activism. In February, Ding was awarded the State Department’s Human Rights Defender Award. #WithoutJustCause
Belarusian democracy activist Maria Kalesnikava was abducted by plainclothes security forces and taken to the Ukrainian border where authorities attempted to forcibly exile her in response to her activism for free and fair elections and respect for human rights in Belarus. She tore up her passport in peaceful protest to remain in the country she loves. She was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in jail in a closed-door trial. Maria is one of the many brave Belarusian women who is courageously standing up for human rights and peacefully pressing for a democratic transition in Belarus at great personal cost. The Lukashenka regime continues to find ways to harass Maria, including labeling her a terrorist and denying visits from her family. In late November, Maria was rushed to a hospital where she underwent urgent surgery and was transferred to urgent care. Before her hospitalization, Kalesnikava had been held in a punitive isolation cell. Maria’s sister, Tatsiana, and her father miss her dearly and long for the day they can be reunited. #WithoutJustCause
Russian activist, politician, and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza has worked tirelessly for the cause of democracy and rule of law in Russia despite two near-fatal poisonings. Now he has been unjustly detained since April 2022 for speaking the truth about the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, for which he faces the prospect of years in prison, in addition to politically motivated charges of treason and cooperating with a so-called “undesirable” organization. For years, Kara-Murza has used his voice to raise awareness of the plight of political prisoners held by Russian authorities and to demand justice for victims of the Kremlin’s wrongdoing. We stand with Kara-Murza and all who take a stand for the truth. He and the more than 500 other political prisoners in Russia should be freed. #WithoutJustCause
#WithoutJustCause: South Korean pastor Kim Kuk-gi spent years in Dandong, China supporting those fleeing the DPRK’s human rights abuses. Now he is toiling away in a North Korean labor camp where he was sentenced in 2015 to spend the rest of his life on charges of “espionage.” The United States remains committed to shining a spotlight on the egregious human rights situation in the DPRK and working with allies and partners to promote accountability. Join us in calling to free all political prisoners, including Kim Kuk-gi!
The brutal and brazen Lukashenka regime in Belarus holds more than 1,400 political prisoners, part of its widespread crackdown on human rights surrounding the August 2020 fraudulent presidential election. Among the political prisoners is Ihar Losik, a well-respected journalist and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty consultant. Losik was tried behind closed doors and unjustly sentenced to 15 years in a maximum-security prison on politically motivated charges. Meanwhile, the regime continues to target his family, and raided their home and auctioned off their belongings. He’s already missed hearing his young daughter’s first words, and she remains without either parent. On January 19, 2023, Ihar’s wife Darya Losik was sentenced to two years imprisonment allegedly for “facilitating extremism” simply for giving an interview to an independent media outlet about her husband. We call on the Lukashenka regime to cease targeting Ihar Losik and his family. Both Ihar and Darya must be released immediately and reunited with their young daughter. #WithoutJustCause
The justice system should be used to seek justice, not to punish those speaking up for human rights. Elchin Mammad is a journalist and human rights lawyer who provided free legal assistance to low-income families and non-profit organizations in Azerbaijan. In March 2020, shortly after he published a report critical of the human rights situation there, he was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison on alleged charges. Elchin Mammad and all other political prisoners should be released immediately and unconditionally. #WithoutJustCause
Mansur Mingelov, a taxi driver and human rights defender in Turkmenistan, was arrested in 2012 on politically motivated charges and is serving a 22-year sentence in a penal colony. Prior to his arrest, Mansur had collected and sent materials about alleged cases of torture of ethnic Baloch people to the president of Turkmenistan, the prosecutor’s office, the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe representative office. He was subsequently arrested, reportedly severely beaten during the arrest, and as a result developed acute osteomyelitis of the distal tibia complicated by tuberculosis. His family has not been allowed to send him essential medicines because of COVID restrictions, and according to turkmen.news, in 2021, authorities illegally evicted his elderly parents from their home. He should be freed now. #WithoutJustCause
Iranian Narges Mohammadi has been repeatedly detained since 1998, but that hasn’t stopped her civic activism and legal advocacy for human rights and gender equality. On June 18, Iranian authorities summoned Narges Mohammadi to appear in the Second Branch of the Evin District Security Court for the fifth case opened against her in the past six months by the Ministry of Intelligence, solely for bravely speaking out from prison and exposing sexual abuse inside Evin prison’s women’s ward. Mohammadi said she will not be silenced through fabricated cases and pledged not to attend any future trial since she does not recognize the current government, its jurisdiction, nor its court’s verdicts as legitimate. Currently, Mohammadi is serving a sentence of nine years and eight months in Evin prison, along with 154 lashes and additional penalties, on politically motivated “national security” charges, which the Iranian regime has used to justify jailing hundreds of non-violent political prisoners, including activists, human rights defenders, political figures, and members of religious and ethnic minority groups. According to credible human rights organizations, Iranian authorities arrested an estimated 20,000 people for involvement in peaceful protests following the September 2022 death of Mahsa Jina Amini in the custody of the so-called morality police. Mohammadi still bravely works to defend human rights from behind bars, such as by helping to lead calls with other prominent women rights activists that prompted the international community to expel Iran from the UN Committee on the Status of Women. Iranian prison authorities have repeatedly denied her adequate medical care to treat a neurological disorder. We join the international community in calling for the release of Mohammadi and all other Iranians being unjustly detained by the regime simply for exercising their human rights. Narges Mohammadi is detained #WithoutJustCause.
Kem Sokha is a Cambodian human rights activist and political opposition leader who served as the President of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Since his arrest in 2017, Mr. Sokha has been the subject of arbitrary detention and a ban on participating in any political activity. A Cambodian court convicted him on politically motivated “treason” charges on March 3 and sentenced him to 27 years of prison (currently reduced to house arrest) for exercising his fundamental freedoms of expression and association. Kem Sokha’s conviction is part of a larger pattern of threats and harassment by Cambodian authorities to target political opposition leaders, media, and civil society. The United States condemns the conviction of Kem Sokha and calls for Cambodia to immediately and unconditionally release him.
As a renowned journalist and author, Phạm Đoan Trang peacefully campaigned for human rights, rule of law, and a more inclusive Vietnam. She bravely reported on social issues previously not covered by the Vietnamese media and was awarded the 2022 International Woman of Courage award. She was reportedly sentenced to nine years in prison because of her advocacy. No one should have to fear imprisonment for peacefully expressing an opinion. #WithoutJustCause
Tajik human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov bravely represented people against politically motivated charges from the government in court. It reportedly eventually landed him in jail. He was arrested in September 2015 and sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2016 on charges allegedly prompted by his representation of individuals prosecuted by the government of Tajikistan. Yorov also took on the civil cases of individuals whose homes were raided by police or businesses seized by the members of the Tajik president’s family. He still has 10 years left to serve. Yorov has been awarded multiple international human rights awards. According to Lawyers for Lawyers, he suffers from asthma and his health has deteriorated during the pandemic. #WithoutJustCause
What You Can Do
The stories of these political prisoners are tragic and sobering, but also inspiring. There is power in your actions and in your voice. You can help to free these prisoners and diminish human rights abuses generally.
- Learn more about the facts. Seek out and learn from non-governmental organizations, scientists, historians, and other experts.
- Listen to and amplify the stories of survivors of human rights abuses and their families.
- Follow, join, or volunteer with human rights advocacy groups. Encourage your family and friends to learn or volunteer with you. There is power in numbers.
- Contact your local, state, or national government officials. Ask them to take a stand.
- Contact officials from the governments holding political prisoners to express your concerns and ask for their release.
- Be an informed and conscientious consumer. Research the products you buy to ensure they aren’t made with forced labor or linked to other human rights abuses. Ask questions about companies’ human rights practices.
- Send letters of support to political prisoners. Read more about how to do so from human rights NGOs like Write for Rights – Amnesty International.
- January 11, 2023 Launch of #WithoutJustCause Political Prisoners Initiative