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Clinton isn’t going to jail, but in some countries it’s a way to build power

(Photo Credit: Hillary Clinton/Facebook)

Update: In last night’s presidential debate, Donald Trump told Hillary Clinton: “You’d be in jail” if he were president. This follows months of similar rhetoric on the campaign trail. Below is a story from July that looks at elected leaders who have jailed their opponents.

Chanting “lock her up,” supporters of both Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have called for the jailing of the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in recent days.

Clinton opponents have criticized the decision by the FBI not to file charges, even though she was found to have received classified information on a private email server as secretary of state. Opponents say she endangered national security and should punished.

Calling for the immediate jailing of an opponent who faces no criminal charges under the guise of anti-corruption is a trademark of authoritarian governments. In non-democratic regimes, members of the media and political leaders face physical attacks and arrests for opposing the party in power.

Here are some recent examples from around the world showing how some countries, particularly with leaders in power for decades, use laws like treason and inciting unrest to jail opponents and maintain power.

Republic of the Congo

Paulin Makaya

Paulin Makaya

Opposition leader Paulin Makaya received a two-year sentence on Monday for leading protests against a referendum to allow current President Denis Sassou Nguesso to stand for a third term. At least four people died during the march against the referendum in October. Congolese security forces fired on the crowd after it refused to break up. Makaya, held in jail since the protests, was found guilty of “incitement to disturb public order” and three other counts. His lawyer decried the decision as “unjust and illegal.” Rights group Amnesty International campaigned for the release of Makaya prior to his conviction.

“Sentencing Paulin Makaya to two years in prison simply for taking part in a protest is yet another clear example of how freedom of expression has been restricted and opposition muzzled in Congo,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International Deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, in a statement following the conviction.

South Sudan

Then-Vice President Riek Machar (R) with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir.

Then-Vice President Riek Machar (R) with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.

Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar was replaced on Monday, essentially ending the political deal between Machar and President Salva Kiir that was negotiated after the onset of fighting in late 2013. Machar was fired by Kiir three years ago, an act that led to violence between supporters for the two leaders. A tentative peace deal that returned Machar to the V.P. post started coming apart when fighting returned to the capital city of Juba in early July. Opposition leader Taban Deng Gai now steps in to the role, but it is unlikely to bridge the division between Kiir and Machar.


Sign in Kampala, Uganda from 2012. (Craig Morey/flickr)

Sign in Kampala, Uganda from 2012. (Craig Morey/flickr)

Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni won his fifth term in office in what observers say was not a free and fair election. Opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was arrested multiple times in the run-up to the election and is now facing treason charges. He spent two months in prison before being released two weeks ago and was jailed again on Monday for unspecified reasons.

“The police are violating the opposition’s and the media’s basic rights protected under international law as well as under Uganda’s constitution,” blogged Maria Burnett, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, in May. “That those who peacefully express critical views can be arbitrarily arrested, detained, and beaten makes everyone vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately there is no reason to believe this will end once there is a ruling on the electoral petition.”


Teresa Kok (Credit: Teresa Kok/Facebook)

Teresa Kok (Credit: Teresa Kok/Facebook)

Malaysian opposition Member of Parliment Teresa Kok Suh Sim won a major case against the government this week. The Court of Appeal in Malaysia ruled in favor of Kok and awarded her damages stemming from her wrongful arrest in 2008. She was held for two hours by police who said she took part in activities that could create conflict or tension in the country. The ruling is a major victory for Kok and overturns the earlier decision by the Kuala Lumpur High Court that her detention was lawful.


The most significant protests in the country ruled by Robert Mugabe for nearly four decades are under way on both the streets and through social media. The #ThisFlag protests, as they are being called, have been visibly led by Pastor Evan Mawarire. Police responded to protests with water cannons and tear gas to disperse crowds. His public proclamations have led to his arrest on two weeks ago for “inciting public violence.” It came days before a new set of protests aimed to shut down businesses, public transport and schools to force change in the country.

Mawarire was released from jail shortly after his detention after a magistrate ruled that the attempt by authorities to change the charges against Mawarire were unconstitutional. He now is in South Africa and continues to use social media to communicate with fellow Zimbabweans who oppose the Mugabe government.


Waseem Akhtar

Waseem Akhtar

The mayor-elect of the city of Karachi was arrested alongside other political leaders on Tuesday. Waseem Akhtar and the others were held for supposedly helping to shelter and provide medical treatment to militants and criminals, a senior police official told Reuters. The military has cracked down on political leaders in the city over the past year, a move that critics say is designed to consolidate power. Last year’s arrest of former Petroleum Minister Asim Hussain was condemned and labeled as a politically motivated act by his supporters.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]