Rubio: “We must do everything we can to raise awareness of the brutality taking place in repressive regimes around the world. We must not forget the hundreds of people who are being tortured or deprived of their lives for trying to bring freedom to their lands while illegitimate governments desperately cling to power.”
Washington, D.C. – In a Senate floor speech today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) brought to light the ongoing human rights issues taking place around the world. He shared the stories of political prisoners highlighted in his social media campaign #expressionNOToppression, and called on the free world to advocate for the freedom of those jailed for fighting for their God-given rights.
“The vast number of political prisoners held by repressive regimes is a sobering reminder of how much work remains to uphold basic human rights and advance democratic values,” said Rubio. “From Cuba, to China, [to] Turkey, to Saudi Arabia, people are suffering for exercising the freedoms that our Creator gave them.
“Now, I say the phrase ‘political prisoners,’ but I want to remind you that these prisoners often times are ordinary people just like us – people who dream of a greater future for their country, people who envision a better life for their families and their loved ones, Rubio continued. “They’re journalists, they’re bloggers, many are human rights activists, educators, some are politicians, but we also have pastors, and mothers and fathers and students.
“America traditionally has been a voice for those oppressed. We as a country, as a people, have engaged in what Ronald Reagan once described as the ‘age-old battle for individual freedom and human dignity.’ It is unacceptable for America to forsake this legacy today – to turn its back on our fellow human beings who are losing their lives or being imprisoned for exercising their fundamental, God-given freedoms,” Rubio concluded.
A transcript of Rubio’s full remarks is available below. A video is available here, and a broadcast quality video is available for download here.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
May 26, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “I wanted to come to the floor today to bring to your attention an ongoing human rights issue that weighs heavily on me, and should weigh heavily on all of us.
“Every day, people are unjustly detained, they’re tortured, publicly shamed, and murdered, often at the hands of their own government. And here’s what their crimes are: Simply disagreeing with the government… disagreeing whether through journalism, through blogging, through peaceful organizing, or for simply [believing] in a different religion. In jail cells all around the world sit innocent men and women who wanted nothing more than to freely express themselves in the society in which they live.
“The vast number of political prisoners held by repressive regimes is a sobering reminder of how much work remains to uphold basic human rights and advance democratic values. From Cuba, to China, [to] Turkey, to Saudi Arabia, people are suffering for exercising the freedoms that our Creator gave them.
“Now, I say the phrase ‘political prisoners,’ but I want to remind you that these prisoners often times are ordinary people just like us – people who dream of a greater future for their country, people who envision a better life for their families and their loved ones. They’re journalists, they’re bloggers, many are human rights activists, educators, some are politicians, but we also have pastors, and mothers and fathers and students.
“America traditionally has been a voice for those oppressed. We as a country, as a people, have engaged in what Ronald Reagan once described as the ‘age-old battle for individual freedom and human dignity.’ It is unacceptable for America to forsake this legacy today – to turn its back on our fellow human beings who are losing their lives or being imprisoned for exercising their fundamental, God-given freedoms.
“So this is why, last September, my office launched a social media campaign we call #expressionNOToppression. Each week, we highlight a different political prisoner or prisoner of conscience in an effort to bring and put a human face on the suffering inflicted by the many repressive regimes around the world.
“Today I wanted to come here to share the stories of some of the people we’ve championed in the past year.
“In 2014, Tibetan writer and blogger Dawa Tsomo was detained for breaking China’s cyber laws by publishing articles that the government considered ‘politically sensitive.’ To this day, she is missing. Today, China is one of the most repressive countries in the entire world.
“In Cuba, matters are just as serious, if not worse. Beatings, public acts of shame, and termination of employment are all well-known consequences of disagreeing with the Castro regime. The Castro regime has re-arrested almost all of the 53 political prisoners it released as part of the supposed “normalization” of relations that President Obama undertook at the end of 2014.
“Remember the 53 names on that list of people they were going to let go as part of the normalization? Virtually all 53 of them have since then been re-arrested.
“The Cuban people know they deserve better. Groups throughout the island have continuously stood up to the face of repression, and one of the most prominent is a group, The Ladies in White, or in Spanish “Damas de Blanco.” Many of the women who make up this group are the wives and relatives of jailed dissidents protesting the unlawful imprisonments of their husbands, and sons, and brothers and fathers. Each Sunday following Catholic mass, the Ladies in White take to the streets in a silent march. They are often harassed, arrested, and even beaten by the Cuban government.
“In fact, just last Sunday, the leader of the Ladies in White was arrested. She will soon be placed on trial and could face between three months and five years in prison. But this sort of treatment hasn’t stopped them. Week after week, these women continue to protest the Castro regime and fight for the freedom of their nation and loved ones.
“In the disaster that has become Venezuela, due to its incompetent tyrant leader Nicolas Maduro, a tyrant who is an incompetent clown, we’ve seen one of the most prominent opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, arrested and sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison on charges of terrorism, murder and grievous bodily harm and public incitement. Sounds like pretty serious charges. Here’s the reality – Leopoldo Lopez, who was the governor of a prominent state in the country, was imprisoned for advocating for a constitutional, democratic, and peaceful change in the Venezuelan government.
“Since the Venezuelan government’s crackdown on demonstrators and political opponents began in February 2014, dozens of innocents have been killed, thousands beaten and targeted for intimidation, and hundreds more jailed.
“Not to mention, most of these political prisoners in Venezuela are men. Do you know what happens when these wives go visit their spouses in prison? They are often strip-searched by male guards in front of their families as the act of ultimate humiliation. This is what we’re dealing with in Venezuela.
“In late March of this year, the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a law that would extend amnesty to more than 70 political prisoners in Venezuela because they had an election and in that election even though [the Maduro government] always steal elections in Venezuela, the loss was so overwhelming they couldn’t steal this election and so the opposition won control of the Venezuela National Assembly and they passed a law that extended amnesty to more than 70 political prisoners who are in Venezuelan jail simply because they oppose Maduro, not because they committed a crime.
“And to no one’s surprise, the tyrant Nicolas Maduro promised to block it because he claimed it was unconstitutional. Only a few weeks later, he sent the law to the Supreme Court and urged them to overturn it. Four days after his request, the Supreme Court, which is illegitimate because it is completely stacked with his cronies, granted him his wish and declared the law unconstitutional. So this is why there’s been a coup d’etat in Venezuela, that’s why the democracy has been cancelled, why it’s now in a tyranny.
“You have an elected national assembly being ignored, you have a Supreme Court being stacked with cronies that are basically a rubber stamp for the tyrant, and the result is a gross violation in human rights, most prominently the case of Leopoldo Lopez.
“In Pakistan we’ve seen proponents of religious freedom murdered for criticizing blasphemy laws. In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs and the only Christian to serve in Pakistan’s Cabinet, was shot to death by the Pakistani Taliban outside of his mother’s home. Five years have passed, and the Pakistani government has failed to bring his murderers to justice and have failed to attempt to reform the blasphemy law that continues to encourage violence, murder with impunity, and marginalization of religious minorities. As a result, numerous other prisoners of conscience in Pakistan suffer behind bars.
“Finally, as President Obama visited Vietnam this week, a Vietnamese blogger and human rights activist named Nguyen Huu Vinh was languishing in a state prison for having voiced the wrong opinions about his government.
“These examples are just a tiny window into the world of political oppression that exists today.
“Their cases are only a few that we have highlighted in our #expressionNOToppression campaign. I’d like to submit for the Record a complete list of all of the political prisoners we’ve featured — they span the globe from Angola to Laos, from Iran to Burma.
“All of these men and women were seen as a threat to the leaders of their nations. But I see them as heroes. Just because they aren’t fighting on a battlefield doesn’t mean they aren’t putting their lives on the line for the greater good of their people and nation.
“In a country where we’re free to express ourselves, it may be hard to grasp this risk. It’s difficult to imagine a prominent journalist in the United States fearing for his or her life solely for doing their job, or to fathom a popular blogger facing the death penalty solely for expressing their thoughts. It should be just as unimaginable to jail independent journalists in the rest of the world.
“The families of the prisoners I mentioned today have also paid a price. Most spend their days and nights unsure if they will ever again see their loved ones. There are no visiting hours, there are no phone calls. In the cases of many on death row, their families often find out they’ve been executed on state-run media. Children are left to grow up on their own, wondering where their mother or father has gone, wondering if they will ever feel their embrace again.
“But there are reasons to be hopeful. For when free peoples speak out, it can make a difference in the lives of the oppressed.
“As a result of numerous international efforts including my #expressionNOToppression campaign, some prisoners of conscience have been released from jail and reunited with their families, although they may not be able to return to their home countries. We saw this in the case of the Cuban street artist known as El Sexto, who was freed last October after ten months in prison. We saw it in the case of prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif, who were released from jail only on the grounds of deteriorating health but have since been allowed to travel to the Netherlands for medical care and to be reunited with their daughter.
“Once released, many have agreed that advocacy on their behalf was a great encouragement to them and their families and likely resulted in better treatment or even a speedier release.
“A few years ago, famed Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky testified on Capitol Hill and said of himself and fellow prisoners of conscience in the USSR, ‘we never could survive even one day in the Soviet Union, if our struggle was not the struggle of the free world.’
“We should take to heart the sentiment he expressed and embrace the struggle of political prisoners who languish unjustly as I speak. We must do everything we can to raise awareness of the brutality taking place in repressive regimes around the world. We must not forget the hundreds of people who are being tortured or deprived of their lives for trying to bring freedom to their lands while illegitimate governments desperately cling to power.
“Even with our strategic allies, such as Saudi Arabia, we can never stop insisting that they show respect for women, for all human life and the God-given fundamental rights of all people. Oppressed peoples do not stay oppressed forever. Repressive governments do not stay in power forever. Inevitably, the human yearning to be free and to achieve a better life for one’s self and one’s family cannot be restrained.
“Today, I pray for those who are victims of their own government. I pray for the release of prisoners of conscience and their families. And I pray that our own country stands firmly by its principles in calling for the sacred right of every man, woman, and child to be free.”