With global democracy declining for the ninth year in a row, we look at some of the opposition leaders around the world who have been charged with sodomy, bribery and arson, and who now face prison and even death sentences.
Leopoldo López, awaiting verdict, charged with inciting violence and arson
“Our arguments – and those of hundreds more Venezuelans suffering the same injustice – are clear and forceful: political disqualification violates laws.”
Founder of the opposition Popular Will party, Leopoldo López was arrested on 18 February 2014 after calling for citizens to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro, whose leadership has seen Venezuela pushed into the top 10 countries in the world for corruption and homicide. Charges of murder and terrorism were later downgraded to arson, damage and inciting violence, for which he is still on trial.
Andargachew Tsige, death row, convicted of attempting to overthrow the government
Accused of attempting to overthrow the government, Ethiopian opposition leader Andargachew Tsige was sentenced to death in absentia in 2007. His party, Ginbot 7, seeks to end the country’s dictatorship and is Ethiopia’s largest exiled opposition movement. Tsige fled in the 1970s and sought asylum in the UK, while Ginbot 7 was declared a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian government in 2011.
While travelling to Eritrea in June 2014, Tsige disappeared during a stopover at Sana’a airport and was subsequently extradited to Ethiopia, where he remains on death row. Amnesty International has closely documented Tsige’s case, and online petitions call for his release.
Mohamed Nasheed, 13 years, convicted of terrorism
“Maldivians have the right to be ruled, not through coercion, down the barrel of a gun, but peacefully, by popular consent, via the ballot box.”
As president of the Maldives, Nasheed sought to arrest the chief judge of the criminal court for corruption in January 2012, but was forced to resign from office in what was effectively a coup. Now leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic party, he was arrested on terrorism charges and jailed for 13 years earlier this month.
The MDP launched a national civil disobedience campaign to free Nasheed on 15 March, calling for citizens to take to the street in peaceful protest. His trial was deemed deeply flawed by Amnesty International.
Musallam al-Barrak, two years, convicted for criticising the Kuwaiti ruler
“You can jail my body but not my ideas and will.”
Musallam al-Barrak, leader of the Popular Action Movement opposition, is accused of insulting Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah during a speech while he was an MP in October 2012. His speech protested that changes in law would allow the al-Sabah family to manipulate election outcomes.
Authorities have cracked down on their opposition since mass protests in 2012, and numerous former MPs and tweeters have since been jailed for criticising the emir. Al-Barrak was sentenced to two years in prison in February. Amnesty International has been calling for his release.
Anwar Ibrahim, five years, convicted of sodomy
“[Imprisonment] is a small price to pay in my struggle for freedom and justice for all Malaysians.”
On 10 February 2015, Malaysia’s highest court upheld a five-year prison sentence for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on a sodomy charge. The action came after a former campaign worker filed a sexual assault claim against him. Anal sex is illegal in Malaysia. Ibrahim was previously acquitted of the crime in 2012, but the ruling was overturned days before he was set to contest an election in March 2014. Critics describe his arrest as a government attempt to block the opposition’s ascendancy.
There are Facebook and Twitter campaigns for his release, and political coalition Pakatan Rakyat launched a petition to pardon Ibrahim on 16 March.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, one year, convicted of contempt of court
The arrest of Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, secretary of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation party, came in August 2014 after he participated in a rally opposing the extension of presidential terms in the DRC. He was placed under house arrest on charges of inciting hatred, tribalism and contempt of the supreme magistrature, then sentenced to one year in prison on 11 September 2014.
The Free Fair DRC campaign group has been active in raising awareness, and Ewanga’s case was discussed in British parliament during October 2014, where it garnered 28 signatures from across party lines.
Ibrahim Lipumba, awaiting verdict, charged with holding rallies without a permit
“The people of Zanzibar have been robbed of their choice. We will not accept it.”
Professor Ibrahim Lipumba, chairman of the Civic United Front party, was arrested on 28 January 2015 and for holding political rallies without a permit ahead of the October 2015 Tanzanian elections. New charges of conspiracy, unlawful assembly and rioting were issued on 25 February. With Lipumba currently out on bail, the case has been adjourned until April 13.
Victoire Ingabire, 15 years, convicted of threatening state security
“Remanding me in captivity or silencing my voice can only postpone the revolution, it cannot stop the movement.”
Unified Democratic Forces party leader Victoire Ingabire returned to Rwanda in January 2010, after living in exile for 16 years in the Netherlands, to stand in that year’s elections. She was arrested in April 2010 and barred from running for office.
She was charged with “threatening state security” and “belittling Rwanda’s 1994 genocide” after questioning why the country’s official memorial excluded Hutus (some moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists alongside Tutsis). She boycotted the trial, which she described as politically motivated, and refused to appear in court. Courts upheld the conviction and increased her jail term from eight to 15 years, reviving previously dropped charges of encouraging revolt, after an appeal in December 2013. Her supporters call for international mobilisation against her imprisonment.
Farouk Abu Issa, awaiting verdict, charged with undermining the constitutional system
Farouk Abu Issa was arrested on 6 December 2014 after signing a political declaration in Sudan that brought together opposition and rebel forces in a joint call for democratic change. He faces charges of “complicity to execute a criminal agreement”, “undermining the constitutional system” and “opposing public authority by violence or criminal force”.
Abu Issa’s health has deteriorated since his arrest. Amnesty International and Canadian organisation Lawyers’ Rights Watch have spearheaded calls for the 82-year-old’s release.
Mario Masuku, awaiting verdict, charged with terrorism and sedition
“The king will try to silence the opposition, to try and tighten the knot around us, but we will continue to make things very difficult.”
Mario Masuku, president of banned opposition party of the People’s United Democratic Movement, was detained on terrorism charges after delivering a speech on 1 May 2014 that criticised the system of government in Swaziland. He has been denied bail twice, despite severe health problems, and could face 15 years behind bars if convicted.
Online petitions call for Masuku’s release, while blogs have reported widespread support from politicians, organisations and individuals including the International Trade Union Confederation, the African National Congress and Unison.
Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, five years, convicted of bribery
In his role as deputy leader of the Front for Democracy party, Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira was tipped as the preferred opposition candidate for the summer 2015 presidential elections. The former vice-president was accused of attempting to bribe police in December 2013. He denies the charges, claiming they were intended to block his run for president.
The initial accusations of adultery and bribery were dropped in favour of corruption charges, and on 15 January 2015, Bamvuginyumvira was sentenced to five years in prison. A 2014 report by Amnesty International included a section on his case.