This Christmas, Remember the Plight of Political Prisoners
By Marco Rubio
The holidays are a time for celebrating with friends and family, but this December, we should also remember those who are separated from their loved ones because they have been wrongly imprisoned by evil regimes.
For some Americans, political imprisonment is an abstract concept that they have no personal connection to. That’s not the case for my friends and neighbors in South Florida. Many of them have relatives in Cuba, where puppet dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel’s crackdown on the Cuban people is top of mind.
Díaz-Canel has always been a thug, just like the Castro brothers before him. But since July 11, 2021, when Cubans across the island rose up to protest the regime with cries of “Patria y Vida” (“country and life”), he has been tightening his grip. Today, the Cuban “authorities” hold more than 1,000 political prisoners, including at least 45 minors — and they are arresting dozens more every month.
Those prisoners suffer regular humiliation and torture. Earlier this month, the regime beat pro-democracy activist José Daniel Ferrer in front of his family. Harsh arbitrary imprisonment combined with a corrupt, broken economy is fueling a mass exodus from Cuba. Sadly, things are only going to get worse so long as Díaz-Canel retains his illegitimate grip on power.
Others in my community watch with horror the human tragedies occurring in their beloved homelands of Venezuela and Nicaragua.
In Venezuela, high-level outreach and concessions from the Biden Administration have emboldened Nicolás Maduro and his cronies. The narco-regime has imprisoned political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, and even American citizens, including Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, and two Army veterans, Airan Berry and Luke Denman.
In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and his wife have rounded up anyone who remotely opposes their totalitarian rule, from civil society groups to the independent press to all seven of Ortega’s challengers in the sham 2021 presidential election. They have also increased their senseless persecution of the Catholic Church. Rather than celebrating mass, many priests will spend this Christmas in the infamous El Chipote prison.
The story is the same across the globe. Countless innocent people languish behind bars simply for questioning the dictates of their country’s ruler.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia holds over 300 political prisoners. Kim Jong-un’s North Korea holds as many as 120,000. Meanwhile, the Iranian Ayatollah has put thousands of his own citizens on death row, many of whom are only guilty of “insulting the supreme leader” or participating in anti-regime protests.
Worst of all, however, is the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing captures and “re-educates” everyone who poses a threat to its unlimited claim to authority. This amounts to genocide in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has ripped over one million Uyghurs away from their families; deprived them of their culture, their religion, and their very identities; and forced them into work camps to man factories for cheap Chinese goods. Ilham Tohti, Gulshan Abbas, and Ekpar Asat are among the many Uyghurs whom the Party has detained to intimidate family members in America speaking out against the genocide.
These regimes have also detained American citizens. Brittney Griner may be free, but Paul Whelan, Marc Fogel, Siamak Namazi, Kai Lai, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, Theary Sang, and dozens of others remain captive. Unfortunately, the more this administration sends the message that holding Americans hostage is an effective way for our adversaries to get what they want, the more innocent people may find themselves in a foreign prison.
This is not to say the U.S. should leave its citizens behind. We can and should devote more resources and energy to achieving their freedom, as my Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-taking Accountability Act directs us to do. And we can and should issue sanctions — on regimes and on individuals — to punish those responsible for grievous oppression.
We also must continue to shed light on the plight of political prisoners worldwide. Congress can make headway toward that goal by passing the Rubio-Coons bill to establish an annual National Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day.
Finally, we should always hold political prisoners in our prayers. This Christmas, may God have mercy on those unjustly detained by evil regimes, and may He give strength to their loved ones.