Earlier today, in a very sudden turn of events, Russia’s most famous political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was set free.
After spending more than ten years in prison, Khodorkovsky has now fled to Germany to see his family.
While Putin’s pardon of Khodorkovsky has shocked the world, there are still countless political prisoners around the world who are serving time for similarly politically-charged sentences:
1. Mukhtar Dzhakishev (Kazakhstan)
Much like Khodorkovsky, Dzhakishev was the head of the state-run uranium firm Kazatomprom before being imprisoned on charges of alleged corruption and embezzlement. Since March 2010, he’s been in a high security prison serving a 14-year term, with details of the trial remaining unknown due to the secrecy of the government. It is believed that his conviction is politically motivated partially because he participated in a petition for President Nazarbayev to pardon Mukhtar Ablyazov, another businessman who was also charged for fraud and claims the charges were fabricated for political reasons.
2. Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain)
Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Centre For Human Rights and a well-known human rights activist who was arrested several times for protesting during the Bahrain uprising, aimed at achieving more political freedom for the Shia population. He was later arrested and sentenced for 3 months for an allegedly “insulting” tweet, then, while still in prison, had new charges brought against him related to the protests and has been serving a two year term since Dec. 2012.
3. Yulia Tymoshenko (Ukraine)
Currently in a hospital, Tymoshenko is the former prime minister of Ukraine and the leader of its largest opposition political party. It is widely believed that Yanukovych’s fear of her is what led to the embezzlement and “abuse of power” charges brought against her followed by a prison sentence of seven years that began in October 2011.
4. Ales Bialiatski (Belarus)
Bialiatski is a Belarusian award-winning activist and head of Viasna Human Rights Centre, an organization that provides aid to political prisoners. He was warned in February 2011 that Viasna was not officially registered by the government and would be investigated if it refused to cease operation. Shortly after, for what is believed to be sparked by political motivation partially due to his association with a memorial that commemorated the innocent people killed by the NKVD, the Soviet-era secret police, he was given a 4.5 year prison term in October 2011 for “tax evasion” and “concealment of income on a large scale”.
5. Liu Xiaobo (China)
Liu Xiaobo’s activism and writing against single-party communism in China is the reason he’s been incarcerated since December 2009, serving an 11 year sentence with an added two years of deprivation of political rights, for “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power”.
6. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja And The Bahrain Thirteen (Bahrain)
The “Bahrain Thirteen” is a group of prisoners (the most prominent being Abdulhadi al-Khawaja) who were arrested between March and April 2011 for helping organize and lead the anti-government uprising. The 13 were reportedly beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted in addition to their sentences, which range from one year to life.
7. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (Tibet)
Perhaps the youngest political prisoner in the world, according to human rights groups, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was only six years old when he disappeared after being named by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama. He was detained by the People’s Republic of China and has reportedly not been seen for over 18 years (though Chinese authorities claim that he is happy and going to school just like any ordinary boy — but they have failed to provide any evidence of that statement.)
8. Marwan Barghouti (Palestinian Territories)
Marwan Barghouti, a prominent political figure known for his work defending Palestinian territories, is currently serving his five life sentences and 40 years sentence for supposedly organizing 37 attacks in Israel. While he is seen as one of the leaders of the First and Second Intifadas (or Palestinian uprisings), he claims that he only supported armed resistance to Israeli occupation, but would never condone attacks on Israeli civilians. Barghouti has gained increasing prominence as a potential peacemaker and politician since being jailed.
9. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Medhi Karroubi (Iran)
Former prime minister of Iran Mir-Hossein Mousavi was put under house arrest for encouraging protests to the 2009 elections, as thousands of Iranians came out into the streets to protest the flawed landslide re-election of hardline leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi and fellow opposition figure Medhi Karroubi were put under house arrest in Feb. 2011. President Hassan Rouhani has promised to release them.
10. Alaa Abd El-Fattah (Egypt)
Blogger and journalist Alaa Abd El-Fattah was arrested and released in 2006 and 2011, but his most recent arrest this year was for participating in protests against a new law that bans demonstrations without prior police approval. El-Fattah’s home was raided and he and his wife were assaulted by the police before he was imprisoned, and his detention has been extended for 15 days as of December 1. Other participants in the protests (such as Ahmed Maher, in jail on similar charges) have vocalized their support for El-Fattah.
11. Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé (Cameroon)
Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé was arrested for simply texting “I love you” to another man (homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon.) He was originally imprisoned for three years earlier in 2012 and was temporarily released due to illness (which was largely in part due to the prison conditions). His request for appeal was denied on Dec. 17, 2012 and he has since been returned to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.
12. Anar Mammadli (Azerbaijan)
Anar Mammadli is the chairman of the EMDS in Azerbaijan, which independently monitors election results. After reporting that the October presidential election was rigged (with 85% of the votes going to President Ilham Aliyev), prosecutors began criminally investigating the EMDS for possible “tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of office”. Last week, Mammadli was arrested for “running business activity without registration” and was put in 3-month detention before his trial, which could result in up to 5 years in prison.
13. Ilgar Mammadov (Azerbaijan)
Mammadov is the leader of the opposition Republican Alternative (REAL) movement in Azerbaijan and has been in detention since February after being charged with organizing protests in Ismayilli back in February. In actuality, the protests started spontaneously and before he even set foot in town. Ilgar then attempted to run as REAL’s presidential candidate from detention, but was prevented from doing so when the Central Election Commission claimed that the signatures submitted in support of his candidacy were invalid.
14. Filep Karma (Indonesia)
Since 2004, Filep Karma has been serving a 15-year prison sentence for raising a Morning Star flag in support of Papuan independence in Indonesia. The peaceful ceremony reportedly resulted in shots being fired into the crowd and Karma’s subsequent arrest and conviction.