Mandela is a saint and a symbol. Today in the euphoria of eulogizing, we have forgotten the man behind the saint. Mandela was a political prisoner under sentence of life imprisonment. While we pray tribute to his memory, we need to acknowledge the many men and women on this planet who are still imprisoned, detained, silenced for their political views and activities. In countries around the world, people are deprived of democratic liberties and social justice, and remain disenfranchised and oppressed.
Prominent Chinese scholar and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo was charged with "inciting subversion of state power." He was given an 11-year prison sentence on December 25, 2009, simply for co-authoring a proposal for political and legal reform in China.
Journalist Anna Politkovskaya's fearless coverage of the conflict and human rights situation in Chechnya earned her international recognition. It also brought harassment and intimidation from authorities. She was detained, threatened and poisoned because of her work. In October 2006, she was shot dead at her home in Moscow.
Tural Abbasli, 29, is a blogger, journalist, and head of the youth wing of the Musavat Party, one of the two main opposition parties in Azerbaijan. He used Facebook to criticize the country's government, and was involved in planning peaceful anti-government protests in March and April 2011. On April 2, 2011, Tural was arrested along with 13 other activists while taking part in an unauthorized protest against government corruption and abuses of human rights.
More recently Amnesty International designated Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot as prisoners of conscience.
Martin Luther King penned his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in 1963 after being imprisoned, in his letter's most famous line he states, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." To remember Mandela is to call for liberty, and for the many more imprisoned unjustly in countries around the world. It is imperative that we demand that these precious voices of protest survive. To honor Mandela is to stand for the principles that demand the release of these heroic individuals. Their release will be a major step toward the liberation of the majority of their compatriots.
The past must always address the present and there are no easy walks to freedom.