On January 17th two political prisoners, Alexei Navalny and Rebekah Jones, were arrested on the same day for their political activities. Navalny, Putin's opposition leader, was returning from Germany where he was treated for Novichok poisoning perpetrated by Russian government agents. Novichok means "newcomer" in Russian, and applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. Both Navalny and Jones are relative newcomers to the political arena and both are facing prison time for their political activities. Both Navalny and Jones are innocent of criminal charges and are only guilty of fighting government lies and challenging the political establishment.
Jones was fired from her job as a health-data analyst in Florida for accurately reporting coronavirus statistics. Rebekah Jones was the founder of the State of Florida's coronavirus database. She clashed publicly with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a dispute over data manipulation, with DeSantis trying to downplay the number of infections and the death toll in Florida. Jones was told to change data to support the Republican governor's plan to reopen the state despite soaring COVID-19 cases.
"The governor will not win his war on science and free speech," Jones said in tweets that also confirmed her intention to turn herself in to police. "He will not silence those who speak out."
Jones was fired by Florida state health officials at DeSantis' request. DeSantis subjected Jones to a public character assassination and dismissed her as an insubordinate and disgruntled former employee.
Since her firing Jones has continued to collect and disseminate state COVID-19 information online, maintaining a rival to the official database and more recently compiling and publishing information on cases in Florida schools. On Saturday, January 16, 2021, Jones said a law enforcement search of her computer equipment seized during the raid on her home in December found no evidence of illegality. In her tweet, posted on the next day, Jones said she was "censored by the state of Florida until further notice." Jones also posted a video of the December 7th raid on her home and said police pointed guns at her children. Her family has since moved out of Florida for safety, she said.
Navalny has over four million YouTube subscribers and two million Twitter followers in Russia. He is a painful thorn in Vladimir Putin's side. Through these Twitter and YouTube publications, Navalny distributes materials about corruption in Russia, organizes political demonstrations and promotes his campaigns. In a 2011 radio interview, he described Russia's ruling party, United Russia, as a "party of crooks and thieves," which became a popular epithet used against Putin and his cronies. Navalny has been arrested several times by Russian authorities and received two suspended sentences for embezzlement in two cases, one in July 2013 and another in December 2014. Both cases are widely considered to be politically motivated with no basis in fact.
Both Putin and DeSantis are corrupt politicians seeking only to stay in power and amass millions of dollars. DeSantis charges $25,000 for a ten-minute meeting, the same amount for golfing with him in a foursome. He charges a whopping $150,000 to have dinner with a lobbyist and $250,000 for a high-dollar "intimate meeting." The president of a private investment firm donated $25,000 to DeSantis and is now on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. An insurance executive donated $10,000 to DeSantis and he was just appointed to the State University System Board of Governors. A developer donated $14,700 and let DeSantis use his plane. Since he did two things for the governor, he got two positions: St. Johns River Water Management District and chair of the Florida Transportation Commission. DeSantis also bought a $15 million jet with state funds.
Anders Aslund wrote in the Washington Post, "Putin and his closest friends are looting the state and its assets, primarily Gazprom (the Russian oil and gas company) on an extraordinary scale. My guesstimate is that Putin's cronies have moved $15 billion to $25 billion a year out of the country since 2006. Over 13 years that would total $195 billion to $325 billion. Half of that amount would belong to Putin." Aslund served as an economic adviser to the governments of Kyrgystan, Russia, and the Ukraine and was director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The United States should defend the free-speech rights of both Rebekah Jones and Alexei Navalny, and oppose the corruption of Governor DeSantis and Vladimir Putin. In order to fight against imprisoning dissidents around the world, we have to first stop arresting whistleblowers and peaceful dissidents in the United States to set an example for the world to emulate.