By Senator Marco Rubio
Every day, Americans go about our business blessed to live in the freest society in history. For us, it is sometimes easy to forget that the freedoms we enjoy are deliberately trampled on in other parts of the world. While we are able to freely criticize our government and influence its decisions, other people go to jail and get beaten up for attempting to do the same thing.
These political prisoners are innocent people who only pose a threat to the cruel and repressive regimes that are eventually destined to fail. They are men and women, fathers and mothers, young and old. They are people with dreams of a better life and the courage to demand the conditions to achieve it. Yet, they languish in prisons, subjected to squalor conditions, routine beatings, malnourishment and demoralizing isolation.
Political prisoners are currently in jail all over the world, in places as distant as China, North Korea, Iran and Syria. But some are as close to the U.S. as just 90 miles away, as hundreds of Cuban political prisoners languish in Castro's jails. These are some of their stories.
In China, dissident Liu Xiaobo, a long-time advocate of political reform and human rights, has been detained, placed under house arrest and imprisoned many times for his writings and activism. He is currently serving an 11 year sentence for writing a bold initiative for democracy called Charter 08, which commemorated the 60th anniversary of the UN adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In North Korea, an estimated 200,000 people are held in prison camps, with many not even knowing what alleged "crimes" they have committed. According to reports from former prisoners at one such camp, the Yodok prison in South Hamkhung province, prisoners are forced to work in slave-like conditions and are subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, including cubic "torture cells" where it is impossible to either stand or lie down. Death is rampant, as all detainees at Yodok have witnessed public executions and an estimated 40 percent of inmates died from malnutrition between 1999 and 2001.
In Iran, the Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 for protesting an Iranian law that forced his Christian children to read the Quran in school. He was charged with apostasy and has been sentenced to death by hanging. This week marked his 1,000th day of imprisonment.