Kim Dae-jung

A veteran dissident in 1980, Kim Dae-jung was elected president of South Korea in December 1997 after promising voters democratic reform. A military court sentenced him to death on a charge of sedition which was later reduced to 20 years in jail.

Václav Havel

Havel's writings, banned by the government, brought the world's attention to the Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. In 1979 Havel was sentenced to over four years in prison for "subversion of the republic". After his release, he became the first president of the newly formed Czech Republic in 1993.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule. Although his doctrine of non-violent protest to achieve political and social progress has been hugely influential, Gandhi was imprisoned both in South Africa and India for his political actions.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Because of her efforts to bring democracy to military-ruled Burma, Suu Kyi spent most of the last 20 years in detention or under house arrest. Although sidelined for Burma's first elections in two decades on 7 November 2010, she was finally released from house arrest six days later.

Nelson MandelaIn 

1964 Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage against the South African apartheid government. After serving 27 years, 18 of which were in the infamous Robben Island prison, Mandela was released when the ban on the ANC Party was lifted, becoming the country's first black president four years later.

Liu Xiaobo

Has been in a Chinese prison since 2009, when he was sentenced to 11 years for criticising China's communist government. President Obama has called on China to release Liu, noting that political reform in the country "has not kept pace" with "dramatic progress in economic reform".

Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King advocated Ghandi's non-violent protest, but in 1963 he was jailed for leading mass demonstrations against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, which led to the city being dubbed ‘Bombingham' as attacks against civil rights protesters increased.

Akbar Ganji

Was a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard before becoming disenchanted. As a journalist he investigated ‘the chain murders of Iran', alleging in a series of essays that senior offi cials were behind the killings. The accusation led to his arrest in 2000, and he spent the next six years in prison.

Benigno Aquino Jr

When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972, ‘Ninoy' and other opposition leaders were jailed. After a heart attack seven years later he was allowed to go to America for surgery. Following three years of self-imposed exile, he was assassinated as he stepped off a plane at Manila airport. His death sparked mass protests.

Ho Chi Minh

The leader of the Vietnamese nationalist movement for more than 30 years, he fought against the Japanese, the colonial French and the US-backed South Vietnamese. But when Chi Minh visited the nationalist Chinese government in the 1940s to gain support for his struggle against French colonialists, he was imprisoned for 18 months, famously writing Notebook from Prison.

This article was first published in Total Politics magazine.

Tags: Akbar Ganji, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benigno Aquino Jr, Ho Chi Minh, Issue 33, Kim Dae-jung, Liu Xiaobo, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Political Prisoners, Vaclav Havel