8 people who broke the law to change the world

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 09.51.26

Nelson Mandela is, hands down, one of the most important and celebrated figures of our lifetime.

Mandela represents equality, fairness, democracy and freedom in an often unequal, unfair and undemocratic world. But he wasn’t always seen like this…

Twenty-five years ago he was getting his first taste of freedom after being imprisoned for 27 years. Yes, you read that right. For what? What could he have done to get such a long sentence? Well, he stood up for what he believed. In 1942 he joined the African National Congress and fought against apartheid in South Africa, and was imprisoned for sabotage.

Without Nelson Mandela’s commitment to the abolition of apartheid in the face of oppression and imprisonment, the world could be a very different place. It is because of Mandela, and others like him, many more people live a free and fair life.

To honor his bravery and determination, we take a look at 7 other brave and committed people who have been prosecuted or persecuted for standing up for what they believe in:

Aung San Suu Kyi

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.03.52

Aung San Suu Kyi has become an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

Now the Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma, she spent 15 years under house arrest for advocating for democracy.

Suu Kyi, who was heavily influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest,  helped to found the National League for Democracy. Because of her campaign for democracy in military-ruled Myanmar (Burma), she was detained and kept imprisoned by the government, as it viewed her as someone “likely to undermine the community peace and stability” of the country.

She was offered freedom if she left the country, but she refused to let her party down and stayed in Mynanmar.

In one of her most famous speeches, she said: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Liu Xiaobo

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.09.06

Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese writer, professor, and human rights activist who called for political reforms and the end of communist single-party rule. He is a political prisoner.

Liu was detained in 2008 because of his work with the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for an independent legal system, freedom of association and the end of one-party rule.

He was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. He was sentenced to eleven years’ in jail and two years’ deprivation of political rights.

During his fourth prison term, he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

He is the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China and is the third person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison or detention, after Germany’s Carl von Ossietzky (1935) and Aung San Suu Kyi (1991).

Mohandas GandhiScreen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.13.27

India’s great independence leader first went to prison in 1922 for civil disobedience and sedition after a protest march turned violent, and resulted in the deaths of 22 people. The incident deeply affected Gandhi, who called it a “divine warning’.

He was released from prison after serving 5 years of his 6 year sentence, and went on to become the most famous advocate of peaceful protest and campaigning in the world.

Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km Dandi Salt March in 1930, for which he was imprisoned for a year without trial, and later lead the Quit India Movement, calling for Britain’s withdrawal.  He was arrested many times but never gave up. An advocate until the end, Gandhi sadly paid for his beliefs with his life when he was assassinated by a militant nationalist in 1948.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.14.55

Martin Luther King had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, as the face of the Civil-Rights movement in the 1950’s.

Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors.

King was arrested 5 times, and wrote his second most influential speech whilst in prison in 1963 for protesting against the treatment of the black community in Birmingham, Alabama. Letter From Birmingham Jail, which was written on the margins of a newspaper and smuggled out of the prison, defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws.

Tragically, in 1968 he was assassinated in his hotel at the age of just 39.

Rosa Parks

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.32.56

Rosa Parks was an African-American Civil Rights activist who became famous when she stood up for what she believed – by sitting down. On the evening of December 1, 1955, Parks was sat on a bus in Alabama, heading home after a long day of work.

During her journey she was asked by a conductor to give up her seat to a white passenger, but she refused, and she was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black people to relinquish seats to white people when the bus was full. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system. It also led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Susan Brownell AnthonyScreen Shot 2015-02-11 at 16.41.03

Or Susan B as some gender studies students know her as, was an American social reformer and feminist who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Actively involved in social justice from a young age, Anthony and friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, founded the Women’s Loyal National League, which conducted the largest petition drive in the nation’s history up to that time, collecting nearly 400,000 signatures in support of the abolition of slavery.

In 1866, they initiated the American Equal Rights Association, which campaigned for equal rights for both women and African Americans, and in 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting in her hometown of Rochester, New York, and convicted in a widely publicised trial. Although she refused to pay the fine, the authorities declined to take further action. In 1878, Anthony and Stanton arranged for Congress to be presented with an amendment giving women the right to vote. Popularly known as the Anthony Amendment, it became the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920!

Roxana Saberi


Roxana Saberi is an American journalist who was arrested in Iran and detained for 100 days after being falsely accused of espionage. She had been living in Iran for six years, doing research for a book that she hoped would show a more complete and balanced picture of Iranian society. Under pressure and being threatened with a 10-20 year sentence or even execution, Roxana falsely confessed to being a spy. She quickly realized this was a mistake and recanted her confession – knowing this would jeopardize her freedom. Instead of freeing her, her case was sent to trial, sentencing her in eight years of prison.

 “I would rather tell the truth and stay in prison instead of telling lies to be free.”

After her trial, she began her hunger strike – only drinking water with sugar. After two weeks, Roxana’s attorney appealed her conviction. She was released from prison after an appeals court cut her jail term to a two-year suspended sentence.

 “I learned that maybe other people can hurt my body, maybe they could imprison me, but I did not need to fear those who hurt my body, because they could not hurt my soul, unless I let them.”

This article firstly appeared on one.org


Bukola Saraki: The “Facebook” Senate President

There is no valid objection to the fact that Nigeria, as a vast democratic nation with enormous tasks before her, has never experienced a full citizen-engaged parliament until this 16th year of its 4th Republic, exactly her centenary age. The most-talked-about 8th Senate since its inception on June 9 2015, till this eventful moment, has been marked by several distinguishing policies and actions that make the legislature somehow meeting up with requirements of the modern age.


The man of the moment, Senate President Senator Bukola Saraki, made a pledge to Nigerians that his leadership of the Senate will introduce transparency by adopting and encouraging e-parliament system of legislature. This is a call that must never be allowed to slip off his mind. I must emphasize. 

Before the emergence of Saraki, it would be recalled that the teeming Nigerians on social media have frowned severally at the closed-door-manner at which the National Assembly is ran by predecessors. It was largely believed that making legislative activities of the upper and lower chambers hidden from the citizens negates the core values of democracy. As an intellectual protest against this act, the emergence of social media campaigns like #OpenNASS, most particularly, erupted and trended inevitably on all social media platforms. The reaction of the then Senate President, Senator David Mark, was so ridiculous to show that the Senate, in the previous dispensations, doesn’t understand the significance of social media in building an accessible legislature. According to an opinion published by Vanguard Newspaper, operations of the National Assembly (Before Saraki) were shrouded in secrecy.

Differently however, Saraki who has tasked the Senate Committee on Rules and Business to develop an e-Parliamentary system that can be employed at Senate Plenary sessions to permit public contributions, demonstrated what has been described as unprecedented “legislature-citizenry interaction” before, during and after the Ministerial Screening process. There’re multitudinous feedbacks on Twitter that would remain as attestation to this.

In the pursuit of attaining an absolute transparency, Saraki urged Nigerians on his online pages to partner with the Senate by suggesting prospective policies that would further assist the government on deliverance of dividends of democracy. A week after, the Senate President reported that the Senate received thousands of e-mails with in-depth reports, according his statement.

Even though it’s not agreeable that the whole of these is the height of what transparency is, it is totally not logical either to dispute that they’re practicable leaps towards it. 

On this cause so far, it’s as if the Senate hasn’t taken any step yet, considering the amazing announcement by the Senate President that officials of that renowned social media platform, Facebook, would be led by their “Head of Public Policy for Facebook in Africa” to train Senators on holistic use of social media apps.

This, as a matter of fact, has generated a lot of online controversies, even among social media users (myself inclusive) who have lauded the innovative ideas of the 8th Senate. Aside the reckless extravagance, it’s just too flabbergasting to hear that Nigerian Senators don’t know how to operate Facebook! Don’t they have Media Aides? Some have asked angrily and mockingly. In his collections of Twitter reactions nevertheless, the Facebook Senate President clarified that the training demands “no single kobo” from the government.

If the disclaimer above could be true, one might agree with the statement by Mr. Bamikole Omishore, Special Assistant on New Media to the Senate President, that the decision is borne out of the wish to join the global community in the efficient way of using social media platforms to achieve modern e-legislature. “As a step in joining the global community in using the Social media platforms the right way, Head of Public Policy for Facebook in Africa will be coming to Nigeria with some of her colleagues to Train Nigerians Senators and their aides on effective use of the platform to engage Nigerians on formation of policies and to get undiluted feedback from their constituents”Omishore argued. 

Let me state emphatically at this juncture that not all Nigerian Senators, even though it is presumed that they can all operate online social media, make committed use of it. A senator that I will give privilege of anonymity had once said: “hanging online exposes you to uncontrollable cyber criticism, incessant attacks among other associated troubles.”  If truly it is the belief of many government officials that abstinence from online platforms is the only way to avoid public assessment, it should be said frankly that such ideology is not only obsolete, but also detrimental to the realization of common goals, especially in a country where public protest isn’t well encouraged like Nigeria.

Mandela is very right in his word that “it always seems impossible until it is done.” If the use of social media has the required potential to transform governance in our country by fast-tracking productive civic engagement and making our representatives more accessible and accountable, as well as bringing about job opportunities as most Senators could subsequently set up ICT centres after the training, I will, to this end, have no reservations in giving encouragements to the leadership of the National Assembly.

Submissively, it should be re-iterated that there’s more to Facebook than posting pictures and passive posts, the use of its other integrated Apps is another world of ICT knowledge that’s worth learning. Without fear or favour therefore, the Facebook Senate President remains on track as far as revolutionizing the Senate is still the struggle.