With the indictment and impending arrest of President Donald Trump on flimsy charges in the state of New York, lots of people have pointed out that America look like a banana republic
Why do people make the banana republic comparison? Because historically in the U.S., presidents and party leaders dont get arrested. By contrast, the use of a novel legal theory to arrest a declared presidential candidate is substantially more routine in the more, er, flawed democracies of the Global South. Its the sort of behavior that the U.S. has a long history of lecturing other countries about and dont worry, theyre definitely happy to remind us of that.
But as America has invited the rest of the world inside its borders, it has also become like the rest of the world. Here are seven other countries that share Americas newfound love of incarcerating opposition political leaders.
At the beginning of March, Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason, six years after being arrested for an alleged plot to overthrow the countrys prime minister Hun Sen, who has governed the country since 1998. The allegations against Sokha are specifically that he colluded with a foreign country (America) against the interests of his own.
The U.S. State Department released this statement at the time:
The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction and 27-year sentence of respected Cambodian political leader Kem Sokha. The multi- year process to silence him, based on a politically-motivated charge, is unjust and profoundly diminishes the Kingdom of Cambodias standing in the international community. The United States has consistently called on the Cambodian government to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Kem Sokha and all people of Cambodia.
Kem Sokhas conviction is part of a larger pattern of threats, harassment, and other unacceptable actions by Cambodian authorities to target political opposition leaders, media, and civil society. These actions impede any chance for a free, transparent, and fair electoral process. [State Dept]
Remember the Arab Spring? Remember how everybody was so upbeat about Democracy and Freedom sweeping across the Middle East?
Yeah, well, it didnt work out well. From Syria to Egypt to Libya, large-scale protests and pro-democracy movements ultimately led only to crackdowns, renewed dictatorships, or gruesome civil wars. The lone bright spot was the first nation in the domino chain, Tunisia, which actually did successfully hold relatively peaceful, fair elections that resulted in its first ever democratically-elected president.
So yeah, since then, it hasnt gone well. The countrys second democratically elected president, Kais Saied, dismissed parliament, revoked parliamentary immunity, and ruled by decree before implementing his reworked constitution.
This guy made himself a dictator. Can you believe it? Most recently, hes been arresting various opposition political figures, something the U.S. chastised him for earlier this month.
We are alarmed by reports of criminal charges against individuals in Tunisia resulting from meetings or conversations with US embassy staff on the ground, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Price said the alleged criminal charges were part of an escalating pattern of arrests against perceived critics of the government.
The spokesman refused to identify any of the people believed to have been targeted, nor did he offer any details about their meetings with US diplomats, but he said any such meetings were legitimate. [France 24]
Just a few months ahead of a national election in 2021, Nicaraguan police arrested seven opposition leaders within a single week, all of them for the superlatively vague crime of acting against the independence, sovereignty and auto-determination of the country.
In response, the Biden Administration slapped sanctions on the Nicaraguan regime for this anti-democracy maneuver.
The United States will continue to use all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support Nicaraguans calls for greater freedom and accountability as well as free and fair elections, said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The region and the international community must stand with the Nicaraguan people in support of their right to freely choose their government and their freedom from repression and human rights abuses.
No, not the U.S. state with Third-World elections, but the former Soviet republic. In early 2021, Georgian police dragged opposition leader Nika Melia out of his partys headquarters in a violent raid. The case against Melia was rooted in allegations that he incited violence during street protests by his supporters against the government (gee, sound familiar?).
The U.S. State Department complained that arresting Melia needlessly raised political tensions in a divided country:
The United States is deeply troubled by the arrest of opposition leader Nika Melia and other members of the opposition in Georgia.
Polarizing rhetoric, force and aggression are not the solution to Georgias political differences. We call on all sides to avoid actions that could further escalate tensions and to engage in good faith negotiations to resolve the current political crisis. [State Dept]
Nine months later, Melia was released when the European Union posted his bail for him, which probably wont help with any future claims of being a foreign operative.
At the end of 2022, the left-wing government of Bolivia arrested Luis Fernando Camacho, the right-wing governor of the countrys largest state, on charges of terrorism stemming from his support for 2019 protests that toppled the countrys then-leader Evo Morales. If convicted, Camacho faces up to twenty years in prison.
Interestingly, in this case the State Department was not so upset about the arrest of a right-wing opposition leader.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the department was monitoring developments.
We urge the Bolivian government to refrain from excessive use of force against its opposition, including those elected democratically and their supporters. We also call upon the authorities to respect the due process of law against those charged, the spokesperson said. [Reuters]
In 2016, Ugandan presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was arrested on election day, and subsequently charged with treason for encouraging illegal protests and challenging the legitimacy of Ugandas election results. At the time, the U.S. didnt like it at all.
The United States condemns the detention of opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye while voting and tallying is going on. Such an action calls into question Ugandas commitment to a transparent and free election process, free from intimidation, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters. [Reuters]
From 2018 until 2021, Viktor Medvedchuk was the chairman of the 2nd- largest political party in Ukraine, the pro-Russia Opposition Platform For Life party. Then, that spring, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky froze Medvedchuks assets and placed him under house arrest on charges of funding terrorism, three months after Zelensky banned three TV Medvedchuk-linked TV channels for their support of opposition parties and generally pro-Russian outlook. Even though Ukrainian law caps house arrest at just six months, Medvedchuks house arrest was extended four times to more than ten months until the Russian invasion set off a chain of events that got him deported to Russia.
Once again, the U.S. State Department sharply critic-oh wait, actually, they didnt condemn Medevedchuks arrest and imprisonment, and the U.S. actually praised Zelensky for banning opposition TV stations, on the grounds that it helped combat disinformation.
But hey, dont feel bad! Third world autocracies might not have secure rule of law or political pluralism, but they do enjoy a low cost of living, pleasant traditional lifestyles, some pretty architecture, and low obesity.
Wait, America doesnt have any of those things?