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Trump verdict puts US among infamous countries that prosecuted opposition leaders: Who else is on the list?

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Former President Donald Trump joins a growing list of world leaders convicted after leaving office, with many critics in the U.S. claiming that such measures hurt the country’s image as a global leader. 

A New York City court found Trump guilty of falsifying business documents related to payments made to Michael Cohen, who had paid porn actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. World leaders largely offered restrained comment on the verdict, but some of Trump’s closest allies criticized the decision and urged him to ‘keep fighting.’ 

Many have argued that the former president was targeted for political reasons, citing the fact that other cases were opened against him around the same time – though the other three cases, such as the Georgia trial, were delayed – as well as Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg campaigning on his promise to go after Trump. 

Trump insisted that his trial, which included a gag order preventing him from discussing the case, occurred to keep him out of the upcoming election because Democrats ‘can’t win at the ballot box.’ Biden, meanwhile, has blasted any efforts to undermine the decision as ‘reckless’ and ‘irresponsible’ while quipping that he had ‘no idea I was that powerful’ in response to claims he had orchestrated the trial.

Here are some other countries where opposition leaders or candidates have faced prosecution, sometimes even ahead of elections. 

RUSSIA

No case in modern politics of opposition suppression stands as notorious as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing saga to keep his chief political rival Alexei Navalny out of office: Russian courts determined Navalny had violated probationary terms by leaving the country, during which time he suffered an attempt on his life while in Germany.

The Russian court ultimately convicted Navalny on charges of extremism and sentenced him to 19 years in prison, where he ultimately died due to brutal conditions during his confinement. U.S. intelligence officials in April determined that Putin likely did not order Navalny’s death, even if they ultimately hold him responsible for the treatment that led to the politician’s death. 

HONG KONG

Trump’s verdict overshadowed news out of Hong Kong that 14 opposition figures had been convicted of ‘conspiring to subvert state power,’ drawing condemnation from watchdog groups such as Amnesty International, who called the decision ‘unprecedented’ and ‘the most ruthless illustration yet of how Hong Kong’s National Security Law is weaponized to silence dissent.’ 

Former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan are among the dozen defendants who could face life in prison when sentenced later this year, ABC News reported. 

Prosecutors went after 47 democracy advocates who took part in an unofficial primary election that would have undermined the government’s authority through a potential constitutional crisis. 

INDIA

Critics have accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using the courts to prevent his main political rival Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Dehli, from running and campaigning for the upcoming elections.

Several leaders of an opposition alliance remain under investigation, and Kejriwal’s party has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of ‘political conspiracy,’ according to Reuters. Kejriwal remains in pre-trial detention while awaiting a decision on his appeal against an arrest for alleged corruption related to Delhi’s liquor policy.  

India’s top court provisionally released Kejriwal from jail so he could campaign for the elections, which he has dramatically claimed will determine whether India ‘remains a democracy’ and accused Modi of targeting rivals with criminal probes. 

BRAZIL 

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won re-election in 2022 after leaving prison due to the country’s Supreme Court nullifying his conviction on money laundering and corruption charges, citing serious biases in the case against him. 

Lula, arrested as part of ‘Operation Car Wash,’ allegedly had traded favors with a construction company in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment. His arrest and conviction deeply divided Brazil and led to heated legal back-and-forth over the following years. 

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has seen a number of his opponents jailed for various crimes, with opposition leader Nelson Pinero of the center-right Encuentro Ciudadano party recently jailed on charges of incitement to hatred, El País reported. 

The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) allegedly entered Pinero’s house without a search warrant. Another politician, presidential candidate Delsa Solorzano, denounced the arrest, saying that ‘Nelson is one more political prisoner of this dictatorship, which has taken 300 citizens to jail for thinking differently.’

Maduro also saw government opponents jailed in 2017 in a strong crackdown against a new government, jailing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma for planning to flee the country and violating house arrest terms by making political statements to the media, Reuters reported.

CAMBODIA

Kem Sokha, the Cambodian opposition leader, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 27 years in jail. He appealed his charges, which Amnesty International condemned as ‘baseless’ and urged the country’s authorities to ‘end their ongoing crackdown against opposition groups.’ 

‘Anyone who dares to speak out against the government is at risk,’ Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research Montse Ferrer wrote ahead of the appeal hearing.

‘Cambodian authorities must respect, protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of everyone in the country including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and end the increasing restriction of civic space,’ he added. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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