On the Senate Floor, Durbin Urges the Release of Political Prisoners from Russia, Belarus, Algeria, Cambodia, and Guatemala

Calls out Putin’s fear of any dissenting Russian voices

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 five 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 two Russians—Alexei Navalny and 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, “We know what Vladimir Putin is up to in Ukraine. His cruelty and cynicism were on full display when he decided that he would invade Ukraine and bring it back into the Soviet orbit.  He [Putin] tried to silence anyone in Russia who might dissent from his strategy…anyone who might have the audacity to suggest there should be democracy or freedom in that country.  He sent one of his harshest critics to prison and he moves him around.  His name is Alexei Navalny.  Why is he there?  Vladimir Putin can’t allow that man to be out of prison and speak about Putin or his agenda. So, he puts him in prison and silences him.”

Durbin said, “Fellow patriot Vladimir Kara-Murza remains jailed by Putin on nonsense charges and fears of what they represent… He sits in prison today [in a country where] there is no freedom… We must not allow Putin to prevail in Ukraine.  I am saddened and angered that some of my colleagues in the United States Congress have grown tired of the cause of the Ukrainians in defeating Vladimir Putin and have decided they want to move on to other things.  We cannot give up on our own values, and the Ukrainians are fighting for our values today and dying in the process.”

Durbin then highlighted four political prisoners in Belarus who have been jailed under dictator Alexander Lukashenko—they are four out of more than 1,000 political prisoners.  These four political prisoners include Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ales Bialiatski, who was jailed from 2011-2014, visited Durbin afterwards in the Senate, and then was jailed again in 2021; opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was jailed in 2020 for having the temerity to run against Lukashenko, and whose spouse, Svetlana, ran in his place and likely won, and has met with Durbin on numerous occasions; and two jailed Radio Free Europe journalists, Andrey Kuznechyk and Ihar Losik.

Durbin continued, “In 2020, millions of Belarusian voters turned out to vote for a better future, not the Soviet-era dystopia Lukashenko and Putin are trying to impose there and on their Ukrainian neighbors.  That is what this larger debate on the supplemental funding is all about.” 

Durbin then spoke about Cambodia and Algeria.  In Cambodia, there is new leadership under Prime Minister Hun Manet, which could bring some change to the country’s repressive history—this includes releasing jailed human rights activist Theary Seng, who is serving a bogus six-year sentence.  Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed Durbin’s amendment barring any Cambodian official involved in her jailing from receiving or keeping a U.S. visa. 

In Algeria, journalist and independent media owner Ihsane El Kadi is serving a dubious seven-year sentence as part of a larger crackdown on the free media and democracy movement.

Durbin continued, “Such repression is a tragic setback to the country’s vibrant free press that emerged after Algeria’s terrible civil war.  Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the European Union are among those whom I join in calling for his [Ihsane El Kadi] immediate release.”

Durbin then spoke about Guatemala.  Recently, Durbin traveled to Guatemala for a CODEL with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), where they met with elected officials and civil society leaders.  While in Guatemala, the country’s Attorney General attempted to nullify the results of the country’s recent free and fair elections—prompting strong condemnation from the delegation before national and international press.  In October, Bernardo Arévalo won in a decisive landslide election, pledging to tackle endemic corruption.

During his speech, Durbin highlighted the jailing of anti-corruption prosecutor Virginia Laparra—who was recently released to house arrest—and journalist José Rubén Zamora.  Their incarceration continued amid outgoing President Giamattei and Attorney General Porras’ shameful attempts to undermine the peaceful transition ahead of the January 14 inauguration. 

Durbin continued, “What we do here matters around the world, for the large and small battles occurring for freedom and democracy.  I can only hope in the days ahead they will get the message to the individuals that I’ve highlighted today that they are not forgotten, that they do not languish in prison unknown to the rest of the world.  We have to speak up for these people.  Justice not only in the United States, but justice around the world.  And it makes a difference.”

Durbin concluded, “I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: look into the issue yourself—find those people who are unjustly imprisoned for political reasons in these autocratic regimes and give them a word of encouragement yourself on the floor of the Senate.  Amazingly, it does make a difference.  I’ve seen many released, and I hope to see more in the future.  Making these speeches highlighting what they’re going through may seem like a waste of time for some, but it is not.  It is a valuable investment in the values which we share with these amazing people around the world.”

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.