On Senate Floor, Durbin urges Release Of Political Prisoners

Durbin highlights Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, Philippine Senator Leila DeLima, as well as Raif Badawi and Ahmed Mansoor; Calls on new leaders in UAE and the Philippines to demonstrate early leadership on these cases

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today highlighted the plight of political prisoners in four nations and called for their immediate release. All of these political prisoners have been outspoken in their support for democracy and basic freedoms.

Durbin began his speech by highlighting Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was arrested in Moscow following an interview in which he called Vladimir Putin’s government “a team of murderers,” in reference to Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine.

Durbin said, “Let me start with a Russian opposition leader of remarkable courage – Vladimir Kara-Murza.  He was poisoned twice by the Russian spy agency FSB – in 2015 and 2017.  He not only survived that, but continued his work for a more democratic Russia. His wife, Evgenia, who I expect to meet later this week, says, ‘he’s doing as well as you can do in a Russian prison that’s notorious for torture, humiliation, and all kinds of mistreatment of prisoners.’” 

Durbin, Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) bipartisan resolution to honor Kara-Murza and condemn his unjust detention passed the Senate last month. The bipartisan resolution pays tribute to Kara-Murza’s advocacy for human rights in Russia and support for the anti-war movement. Additionally, it urges the U.S. and allied states to secure his immediate release, and calls for the U.S. government to support the cause of democracy and human rights in Russia.

Durbin also profiled the troubling detention of Philippine Senator Leila DeLima. In recent Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs hearings, Durbin reminded Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power about the detention of DeLima.

Durbin continued, “From time to time Senator DeLima writes me from her prison cell.  Let me share a short excerpt: ‘Warm greetings from my detention quarters. I do not know for how long I will remain behind bars but there is one thing that I am sure of – my will to fight for what is right continues to be undeterred.’ Recently, two key witnesses in the sham case against Senator DeLima recanted their testimony proving what we already knew: the case against her is a travesty of justice… Many Filipino Americans in Illinois tell me they care deeply about seeing a more accountable and democratic Philippines…the incoming Marcos regime can demonstrate its commitment to a democratic Philippines by ending the harassment of journalists and making Senator DeLima’s release one of its first priorities.”

During his speech, Durbin also mentioned writer Raif Badawi, who was finally freed from prison after completing a 10-year prison sentence for dubious charges tied to his peaceful writings in Saudi Arabia. He urged the Saudis to allow Badawi to reunite with his family in Canada and called for the release of another Saudi political prisoner, human rights lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, particularly in light of President Biden’s upcoming visit. In addition, Durbin drew attention to the case of Ahmed Mansoor in the United Aram Emirates (UAE), who was arrested in 2017 after using blog posts to advocate for reform and human rights in his nation.  He has been imprisoned for more than five years, at times in solitary confinement – isolated from other prisoners and allowed no contact with his family. Durbin called on UAE’s new President, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to release Mr. Mansoor as an early act of compassion and leadership.

“America’s strength around the world comes not only from our military and economic might, but also from the power of our values. Over the years, I’ve heard from many political prisoners that the support of this body, of Congress, of America, and so many in our government helped sustain them during their lonely, desperate times in jail… To Vladimir Kara-Murza, Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair, Senator Leila DeLima, and Ahmed Mansoor, I say: you are not forgotten and we will continue to advocate for your freedom,” Durbin concluded.

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.