Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2024
Volume 35
Issue 2
Page Numbers 185–194
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Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent anticorruption activist and Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony on 16 February 2024. Three days after his death, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, posted this speech to her late husband’s YouTube channel. Excerpts, translated by Mediazona, follow:

Three days ago, Vladimir Putin killed my husband, Alexei Navalny. Putin killed the father of my children. Putin took away the most precious thing I had, the closest and most beloved person.

But Putin has also taken Navalny away from you. Somewhere in a colony in the far north, above the Arctic Circle, in the eternal winter. Putin not only killed the man called Alexei Navalny, he also wanted to kill our hopes, our freedom, and our future. He wanted to destroy and erase the best proof that Russia can be different. That we are strong, that we are courageous, that we believe and fight desperately. And that we want to live differently. . . .

All these years I was always by Alexei’s side. Elections, rallies, house arrests, searches, detentions, prison, poisoning, rallies again, arrests, and prison again. . . .

I was happy to stand by Alexei’s side and support him. But today I want to be by your side. Because I know that you have lost as much as I have. Alexei died in prison after being tortured and tormented for three years.

He was not only imprisoned . . . he was tortured. He was kept in a punishment cell, in a concrete box, please imagine that. It’s a room of six or seven square meters, with nothing but a stool, a sink, a hole in the floor instead of a toilet, and a bed strapped to the wall so you cannot lie down on it. A cup, a book, and a toothbrush — that’s all he had. For hundreds of days.

He was bullied, cut off from the world, not given a pen or paper to write a letter to me or our children. He was starving. He starved for three years. And not only did he not give up, he cheered us up the whole time. He cheered us up. He laughed. He made jokes. He encouraged us. Never for a split second did he question what he was fighting or suffering for.

My husband was unbreakable. And that’s exactly why Putin killed him. Shamefully, cowardly, without ever looking him in the eye or even mentioning his name. . . .

[T]he most important thing we can do (for Alexei and for ourselves) is to keep fighting. Harder, more desperately, and more fiercely than before. I know it seems impossible to do more, but we have to do more. We should all unite in a strong fist and defeat this crazy regime. We should defeat Putin, his friends, the bandits in shoulder straps, the thieves and murderers who have destroyed our country.

I know and feel how much you want to know why he came back. Why would he voluntarily place himself in the hands of those who once almost killed him? Why would he sacrifice himself in this way? After all, he could have lived a normal life with his family, not talking, not investigating, not speaking, and not fighting.

But he could not do that. Alexei loved Russia more than anything else in the world. He loved our country, he loved you. He believed in us, in our strength, in our future, and in the fact that we deserve the best. Not only with words, but also with deeds. He believed in it so deeply and sincerely that he was ready to give his life for it.

And his great love is enough for us to continue his work. As long as it’s necessary. We’ll work fiercely and courageously as Alexei did. . . .

Everyone is thinking now: Where will we get the strength, how will we live on? We’ll draw strength from him. In his memory, in his ideas, in his thoughts, in his inexhaustible trust in us. I personally will draw my strength from this.

By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul. But I still have the other half. And it tells me that I have no right to give up. . . .

I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny. I will continue to fight for our country. And I encourage you to stand by my side. Do not just share the grief and endless pain that has enveloped us and will not let go. I ask you to share this anger with me. Anger, rage, hatred for those who have dared to destroy our future.

I address you with the words of Alexei, in which I firmly believe: “It is not shameful to do little, it is shameful to do nothing. It is shameful to be intimidated.”

We must use every opportunity: Fight against war, against corruption, against injustice. Fight for fair elections and freedom of expression, fight to take back our country. . . .

Russia, the free, peaceful, happy, beautiful Russia of the future, of which my husband was dreaming about — that is what we need. I want to live in such a Russia, and I want our children to live in such a Russia. I want to build it together with you. Exactly as Alexei Navalny envisioned it. Full of dignity, justice, and love. There is no other way. The unthinkable sacrifice he had made cannot be in vain. Keep fighting and do not give up.

I am not afraid, and I urge you not to be afraid of anything as well.


Russian human-rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on 27 February 2024 on charges of “discrediting the Russian Armed Forces” — that is, for writing an article criticizing the war in Ukraine. Seventy-year-old Orlov was co-chair of Memorial, a Nobel Peace Prize–winning human rights organization that was banned in 2022. Excerpts from Orlov’s closing statement, translated by Human Rights Watch, appear below:

The day this trial began, Russia and the world were shaken by the terrible news of Alexei Navalny’s death. The news shook me, too. I even thought about foregoing a closing statement altogether: what’s the point of words today when we still haven’t gotten over this shock? But then I thought: these are all links in the same chain — the death, or rather the killing of Alexei, the judicial reprisals against other critics of the regime, including myself, the suffocation of freedom in the country, Russian forces’ invasion of Ukraine. So, I decided to speak up after all.

I have committed no crime. I am being tried for a media article I wrote in which I called the political regime that’s been put in place in Russia totalitarian and fascist. I wrote it over a year ago. At the time, some of my friends thought I was blowing things out of proportion.

But now it’s blatantly clear. I wasn’t exaggerating at all. The state in our country controls not only public, political, and economic life. It also seeks total control over culture and the sciences and invades private life. The state has become all-pervasive. . . .

It’s not just public criticism that’s banned, but any independent thought. Even actions seemingly unrelated to politics or criticism of the authorities can be punished. There is no field of art where free artistic expression is possible, there is no academic freedom in the humanities, there is no more private life.

Let me say a few words about the nature of the accusations against me and, in similar judicial proceedings against many others who, like me, speak out against the war. . . .

We’re accused of discreditation, but no one explains how this is any different from legitimate criticism. We’re accused of spreading knowingly false information, but no one bothers to show what’s false about it. When we try to prove why the information is in fact accurate, these efforts become grounds for criminal prosecution. We’re accused of not supporting the system of beliefs and worldview that the authorities have deemed correct, yet Russia is not supposed to have a state ideology. We’re convicted for doubting that the goal of attacking a neighboring state is to maintain international peace and security. Absurd. . . .

Right now, Alexey Gorinov, Alexandra Skochilenko, Igor Baryshnikov, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and many others are slowly being killed in penal colonies and prisons. They are being killed for protesting against the bloodshed in Ukraine, for wanting Russia to become a democratic, prosperous state that does not pose a threat to the world around it.

In recent days, people have been seized, sanctioned, even jailed simply for coming to memorials for victims of political repression to honor the memory of killed Alexei Navalny. He was an amazing person, brave and honest, who, in conditions that were made incredibly harsh specifically for him, did not lose optimism and faith in the future of our country. Whatever the specific circumstances of his death might have been, this was a murder. . . .

Navalny urged us, “Don’t give up.” We remember that. What I can add is this: do not lose heart, do not lose optimism. Because truth is on our side. Those who have dragged our country into the abyss, where it is now, represent the old, decrepit, outdated order. They have no vision for the future — only false narratives of the past, delusions of “imperial greatness.” They are pushing Russia backward . . . But we live in the twenty-first century, the present and the future are with us, and our victory is inevitable. . . .

A word to you, your Honor, and to the prosecution. Aren’t you yourselves afraid? You probably also love our country, aren’t you afraid to witness what it’s turning into? Aren’t you afraid that not only you and your children but, God forbid, your grandchildren also will have to live in this absurdity, in this dystopia?

Doesn’t the obvious occur to you — that sooner or later, the machine of repression may roll over those who launched it and drove it forward? . . .

I am not entirely sure whether the creators and enforcers of Russia’s anti-legal, anti-constitutional laws will themselves be held accountable. But they will inevitably be punished. Their children or grandchildren will be ashamed to talk about where their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers worked and what they did. The same will happen to those who, in carrying out orders, are committing crimes in Ukraine. In my view, this is the worst punishment. And it is inevitable.

Punishment is clearly inevitable for me as well, because in today’s circumstances, an acquittal on this charge is impossible.

Now we will see what the verdict is.

But I have nothing to regret or repent for.


On 3 February 2024, President Macky Sall indefinitely postponed the presidential election scheduled for the end of that month, citing a disputed candidate list that could endanger the integrity of the election. Critics have decried the postponement as an “institutional coup,” and deadly protests have taken place across the country. On 20 February 2024, Senegalese hip-hop artist and social-justice activist Gunman Xuman released the protest single “Dictateur.” Translated excerpts follow:

Excellent start but you ended up as a DICTATOR
You refuse to lose an election, you are worse than a DICTATOR
You muzzle the press, you cut off the internet like a DICTATOR
You dissolve political parties and lock up opponents like a DICTATOR
Dictator dicta/dictator
The people standing united fear no DICTATOR
Dictator! You don’t scare us!

You had an excellent start to your reign
We all had hope of imminent change
But barely elected, it’s only you who has changed
You spend your time arresting people
You are quick to contradict yourself
Don’t be surprised to see the people rise up
You could have left through the front door
Say goodbye calmly
A president who has no pity for his people
He is worse than a slave
You choose who has to fight
You choose who to fight
You are only strong in the exercise of force
We’re going to get rid of you like a dictator

How did you manage to be called DICTATOR?
Senegal does not deserve a DICTATOR
No soap can wash the honor of a DICTATOR
A determined people are stronger than a DICTATOR. . . .


Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled streets in Mexico City and across the country on 18 February 2024 in a “March for Democracy.” Led by political opposition parties and civil society groups, marchers called for free and fair elections and the protection of the National Electoral Institute (INE) from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The president slashed funding for the INE last year and has proposed constitutional reforms that would weaken the body. Lorenzo Córdova, the former president of the INE, gave this speech at the rally. Excerpts appear in translation below:

Democracy in Mexico is the result of many citizen struggles that cost effort, dedication, and sometimes even blood. Democracy was achieved thanks to the commitment made by several generations of Mexicans who, despite their different political and ideological positions, had a common purpose: that we, with our free vote, decide who our governors will be; that our rights and freedoms are guaranteed against abuses of power, and that no one is persecuted, harassed, and singled out for thinking or expressing different opinions.

That is why, faced with the risks that democracy faces today, in the face of the attempts that have been made to undermine the conditions that allow us to have free and authentic elections, to dismantle the institutions that protect us from abuses and to impose a single vision of the world and the nation, is why today we are demonstrating in the streets of our country. . . .

It is not fair to destroy the conditions, the rules, the procedures, and the authorities (the INE and the Electoral Tribunal) that have allowed us to peacefully renew power and the possibility of having a very high level of alternation in governments. It is not fair to demand fair rules and fair conditions in political competition as opposition and systematically violate them as government. That disloyalty today endangers our democracy.

Thus, a few days ago, a series of initiatives were presented again that . . . seek to destroy the INE as we know it and, through a direct election of its advisers, politically control it. An impartial referee is not wanted, a referee who responds to the interests of the majority of the moment is wanted. And that we cannot and will not allow; losing the INE is losing the main guarantee to have free elections and returning to government control over the elections. . . .

Ours is a plural and diverse society, this same square today reflects that political and ideological diversity. But despite those differences that are legitimate and that we must protect, all of us are part of the Mexican Nation, we all fit in that common idea and that is protected by the Constitution. Mexico is not only a country of a few, it is a country for all, majorities and minorities with the same rights. . . .

That is why we cannot stand idly by, that is why we are here, and we will return as many times as necessary, to raise our voice and to say: if it is to dismantle it, democracy will not be touched! Neither the conditions for free voting, nor the democratic control bodies, nor the constitution that divides power and protects our rights will be touched. . . .

Let us not forget that when a democracy is at risk, those who do nothing while others threaten it, attack it, and seek to destroy it, whether out of fear, indifference, or disdain for those attacks, end up being responsible for its destruction.

Democracy was born from the struggles of citizenship, it is a collective work, and its defense is also collective, it is not a responsibility of some, but of all. That is why we are here, to defend something that is ours and that we will not allow to be snatched away from us.

If the authoritarians do not rest, neither will we who fight and defend freedom, equality, rights, and democracy. Here we are today and here we will be as many times as necessary!

Long live free and authentic elections!
Long live the institutions of democracy!
Long live the constitution!
Long live an inclusive Mexico with freedoms!
Long live Mexico!


On 15 February 2023, President Daniel Ortega’s regime stripped the citizenship, rights, and even nationality of 94 Nicaraguan human-rights defenders, journalists, and writers. Just days before, his government had done the same for more than 200 political prisoners. The actions underscored Ortega’s deepening authoritarianism and crackdown on dissent. The Group of 94, as they now call themselves, released a letter on the first anniversary of this event. Excerpts of the letter appear in translation below:

A year ago, the dictatorship led by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo attempted to annihilate our aspirations for freedom, justice, and democracy by declaring civil death against us. According to them, they canceled our citizenship rights indefinitely, seized our assets, eliminated social security pensions, erased us from all official records, declared us fugitives from justice, and, according to our executioners, stripped us of Nicaraguan nationality.

They believed that with these brutal repressive actions, they would crush our dignity, our spirit of struggle, and our commitment to the Nicaraguan people. We inform the dictators that they failed.

With their usual audacity, they staged a farce by applying laws that did not exist, falsifying records, issuing judgments without trials, and imposing penalties expressly prohibited. . . .

For this mafia dictatorship, there are no rights, no constitution, no laws.

We cannot deny that the measures dictated caused disruptions in our lives, already broken by persecution, imprisonment, and exile. They have also caused suffering to our families. But we have faced adversity with dignity and without bending our knees. And here we are, with our morals and our commitment intact.

We are Nicaraguans because it is not within the power of a tyrant to strip any Nicaraguan of their nationality. Especially not a traitorous tyrant who has no qualms about bowing to foreign powers, who has mortgaged the country for a hundred years with the Chinese tale of the interoceanic canal project, and who also participates in transnational networks for human trafficking and money laundering.

We thank the Spanish government and state, which in a generous gesture has granted Spanish nationality to more than a hundred Nicaraguans. We thank the governments of Latin American countries that announced the same offer. We thank the governments from various latitudes that have welcomed us as exiles, refugees, or asylum seekers, respecting our dignity and rights.

We reaffirm to the Nicaraguan people that we will not rest until we can close this nefarious chapter of our history and finally rid ourselves of this mafia clique once and for all. Nicaragua will return to being a republic in democracy, with justice and opportunities for all.


In February 2021, Chinese labor and women’s rights activist Li Qiaochu was arrested for posting about the arrest and torture of her partner, the legal scholar and political activist Xu Zhiyong, as well as her own abuse by Chinese authorities. Held in detention for nearly three years, Li was convicted on 5 February 2024 of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to nearly four years in prison, with an additional two years of deprived political rights. On 11 January 2021, just a month before her arrest, Li wrote this account of her time in secret detention. Excerpts, published and translated by China Change, appear below:

In this small flat, in [Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL)], the dazzling white light above my head was on 24 hours a day. . . . I was made to sit still and hold one position for four hours each in the morning and afternoon, broken only when eating or going to the bathroom. I frequently asked for water just to have a chance to move or shift position. Sitting still for eight hours each day, my whole body felt stiff, as if my blood had congealed. . . .

Because I spent so much time sitting in the same position, the muscles in my legs atrophied, and it was hard to walk after I was released. Every night as I went to bed, facing the bright light over my head, I, who was already prone to insomnia and weak nerves, was completely unable to fall asleep. As soon as I covered my eyes with my hand, the guards yelled or even sometimes forced my arm down roughly. That was when I learned that I needed to maintain a fixed posture even when sleeping, with hands, shoulders, and head outside the covers and visible. If I shifted after falling asleep, I’d be awoken by my robot guards. . . .

I was completely deprived; anyone who appeared before me could reprimand, threaten, or berate me. In the name of “national security,” this system of discipline had no restraints and made use of every scrap of power it possessed. It was a system for sucking the life from prisoners and turning them into “obedient machines,” the sole purpose of living is to be interrogated. . . .

Not only did I abandon any demand for the rights I should have, I even began to accept their values system of “giving me my rights back as privileges or rewards” . . . This warped system was aimed at destroying my principles and depriving me of my human dignity. . . .

I was pressed to write a “confession” of my “crime.” They repeatedly asked me that it must be a “resounding” confession. I didn’t understand what they meant. “You must reflect on Xu Zhiyong’s ideas and denounce them,” they said. “You also have to recognize that, when you helped him post these articles online, you were handing knives to overseas anti-China forces to attack the Chinese government. You should state how you will correct your behaviors and whether you will draw a clear line separating yourself from these subversive ideas and anti-China forces.”

I doubted to what extent my “confession” would be used to determine the charges against me. But through the process of forcing me to revise the confession over and over again, the interrogators and Guobao [domestic security police] succeeded in taking total control of my will and my physical ability to resist, as well as my ability to think and the will to think. They succeeded in making me submissive and cooperative — a willing partner of theirs to disgrace and humiliate myself. Everyone — the captors, the interrogators, the guards, and the post-release minders — existed to reinforce me with the idea that I was their captive and could never escape. . . .

I often had dreams of myself writing a confession, tormented by guilt and humiliation. I keep finding fault with myself: Why was I standing there obediently when they ransacked my things, handcuffed me, and put a black hood over my head? . . .

I will not regret having related what I went through, even if I have to pay the price of being locked up again for doing so, because I know that the moment I muster enough courage to reveal the truth, I will set myself free from the humiliation and terror with which the Guobao have tried to cloak me. If I keep quiet out of fear, I will rob myself of the ability to do things of my own will.


Copyright © 2024 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press