A political prisoner is someone imprisoned because they have opposed or criticized the government responsible for their imprisonment.
The term is used by persons or groups challenging the legitimacy of the detention of a prisoner. Supporters of the term define a political prisoner as someone who is imprisoned for his or her participation in political activity. If a political offense was not the official reason for the prisoner's detention, the term would imply that the detention was motivated by the prisoner's politics.
Some understand the term political prisoner narrowly, equating it with the term prisoner of conscience (POC).
Amnesty International campaigns for the release of prisoners of conscience, which include both political prisoners as well as those imprisoned for their religious or philosophical beliefs. To reduce controversy, and as a matter of principle, the organization's policy applies only to prisoners who have not committed or advocated violence. Thus, there are political prisoners who do not fit the narrower criteria for POCs. The organisation defines the differences as follows:
AI uses the term "political prisoner" broadly. It does not use it, as some others do, to imply that all such prisoners have a special status or should be released. It uses the term only to define a category of prisoners for whom AI demands a fair and prompt trial.
In AI's usage, the term includes any prisoner whose case has a significant political element: whether the motivation of the prisoner's acts, the acts in themselves, or the motivation of the authorities.
"Political" is used by AI to refer to aspects of human relations related to "politics": the mechanisms of society and civil order, the principles, organization, or conduct of government or public affairs, and the relation of all these to questions of language, ethnic origin, sex or religion, status or influence (among other factors).
The category of political prisoners embraces the category of prisoners of conscience, the only prisoners who AI demands should be immediately and unconditionally released, as well as people who resort to criminal violence for a political motive.
In AI's use of the term, here are some examples of political prisoners:
- a person accused or convicted of an ordinary crime carried out for political motives, such as murder or robbery carried out to support the objectives of an opposition group;
- a person accused or convicted of an ordinary crime committed in a political context, such as at a demonstration by a trade union or a peasants' organization;
- a member or suspected member of an armed opposition group who has been charged with treason or "subversion".
Governments often say they have no political prisoners, only prisoners held under the normal criminal law. AI however describes cases like the examples given above as "political" and uses the terms "political trial" and "political imprisonment" when referring to them. But by doing so AI does not oppose the imprisonment, except where it further maintains that the prisoner is a prisoner of conscience, or condemn the trial, except where it concludes that it was unfair.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has a much tighter definition:
A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a 'political prisoner':
- if the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols, in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association;
- if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence;
- if, for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of;
- if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; or,
- if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.
In the parlance of many political movements that utilize armed resistance, guerrilla warfare, and other forms of political violence, a political prisoner includes people who are imprisoned because they are awaiting trial for, or have been convicted of, actions which states they oppose describe as (accurately or otherwise) terrorism. These movements may consider the actions of political prisoners morally justified against some system of governance, may claim innocence, or have varying understandings of what types of violence are morally and ethically justified. For instance, French anarchist groups typically call the former members of Action Directe held in France political prisoners. While the French government deemed Action Directe illegal, the group fashioned itself as an urban guerilla movement, claiming a legitimate armed struggle. In this sense, "political prisoner" can be used to describe any politically active prisoner who is held in custody for a violent action which supporters deem ethically justified.
Some libertarians (such as those who agree with the arguments of Lysander Spooner) also include all convicted for treason and some convicted of espionage in the category of political prisoners. Currently, there is still much controversy and debate around how to define this term and which cases to include or exclude.
Political prisoners can also be imprisoned with no legal veneer by extrajudicial processes. Some political prisoners need not be imprisoned at all. Supporters of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in the 11th Panchen Lama controversy have called him a "political prisoner", despite the fact that he is not accused of a political offense. He is held under secluded house arrest.
Political prisoners are also arrested and tried with a veneer of legality where false criminal charges, manufactured evidence, and unfair trials (kangaroo courts, show trials) are used to disguise the fact that an individual is a political prisoner. This is common in situations which may otherwise be decried nationally and internationally as a human rights violation or suppression of a political dissident. A political prisoner can also be someone that has been denied bail unfairly, denied parole when it would reasonably have been given to a prisoner charged with a comparable crime, or special powers may be invoked by the judiciary. Particularly in this latter situation, whether an individual is regarded as a political prisoner may depend upon subjective political perspective or interpretation of the evidence.
Full List FREEDOM FIGHTERS: Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Akbar Ganji, Benigno Aquino Jr., Ho Chi Minh
Benazir Bhutto... was under house arrest at the time of her father's death; Zia made her a political prisoner for four years
Gramsci carried with him from his Sardinian upbringing two qualities that were to enable him to stand... his long years as a political prisoner in Benito Mussolini's Italy
The former political prisoner, once sentenced to death under one of the country's early military rulers whom he relentlessly opposed, was elected South Korea's president in December 1997 on his fourth attempt.
The chimurenga of Thomas Mapfumo has made him both a pop star and political prisoner in Zimbabwe
Andrei Nikolaevich Mironov (Russian: Андре́й Никола́евич Миро́нов, 31 March 1954, Irkutsk – 24 May 2014, Slovyansk), one of the last soviet political prisoners, was a human rights activist, reporter, fixer, interpreter. The Washington Post described him as "the interpreter who tried to save Russia".Anti H-Block
Anti H-Block was the political label used in 1981 by supporters of the Irish republican hunger strike who were standing for election in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. "H-Block" was a metonym for the Maze Prison, within whose H-shaped blocks the hunger strike was taking place.
Bobby Sands, the first of these hunger strikers, was nominated in the Westminster April 1981 by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. After his victory and death, the Representation of the People Act was passed to prevent convicted prisoners serving sentences of more than one year from standing for Parliament in the United Kingdom, so Owen Carron, Sands' agent, stood as an "Anti-H-Block Proxy Political Prisoner" and won the seat in the subsequent by-election.
In the Republic of Ireland's general election in June 1981 twelve candidates ran under the Anti H-Block banner, nine of whom were prisoners. Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew won seats in Cavan–Monaghan and Louth respectively, while both Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson narrowly missed election in Sligo–Leitrim and Longford–Westmeath . Eamonn Sweeney noted that: Altogether, H-Block candidates averaged 15% of the first-preference vote in constituencies they contested. This was a remarkable performance, given that they had been without money, television exposure (thanks to censorship laws), or any sympathetic media. It was probably beyond the wildest dreams of even their director of elections, Daithi O Conaill, who said the day before the election that "if the H-Block prisoner candidates get between 2,500 and 3,000 votes they will have put up a credible performance"
The successes of the Anti H-Block movement galvanised the Irish republican movement, and led to the entry the following year into mainstream electoral politics of Sinn Féin.Democratic Party (Myanmar)
The Democratic Party (Burmese: ဒီမိုကရက်တစ်ပါတီ, pronounced [dìmòkəɹɛʔtɪʔ pàtì]; abbreviated DP) is a political party in Myanmar (Burma), founded in 1988. It was formally registered in May 2010, with its headquarters in Pazundaung Township, Yangon.The party's chairman is U Thu Wai, a former political prisoner. The party's secretaries, Mya Than Than Nu and Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, are the daughters of U Nu (former prime minister) and Kyaw Nyein (former deputy prime minister) , all well-known Burmese political leaders in the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League.The party contested in the 2010 general election, winning 3 seats in the State and Regional Hluttaws. The party won only a single seat in the 2015 general election, out of the 52 seats it contested. U Aung Shwe, the party's candidate representing Chan Aye Thar San Township for the Mandalay Region Hluttaw, won a majority of the votes, because that the candidate representing the National League for Democracy was rejected before the election.Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. He was declared the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama on 14 May 1995. He was rejected by the search team appointed by the State Council of the People's Republic of China. He was born in Lhari County, Tibet Autonomous Region. After his selection, he was taken into what the PRC government described as protective custody and has not been acknowledged in public since 17 May 1995.Ion Moraru
Ion Moraru (born 9 March 1929) is a Moldovan activist and author. He was a founder of the anti-Soviet group Sabia Dreptăţii and a political prisoner in the Soviet Union.Jüri Kukk
Jüri Kukk (May 1, 1940 – March 27, 1981
, Russia) was an Estonian professor of chemistry, a political prisoner, who died in the Soviet labor camp at Vologda after several months of being on hunger strike and psychiatric treatments.Kukk was born in Pärnu. He resigned from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1978 and was subsequently fired from the post of associate professor of chemistry at Tartu University. He was also refused permission to emigrate.Jüri Kukk was arrested in February 1980 "for distribution of anti-Soviet Propaganda".Kabiline
Kabiline is a large village in the Bignona Department of the Ziguinchor Region of southwestern Senegal. In 2002 the village had a population of 3258 people. Surrounded by rivers, it is connected by a road which leads to the N5 road, which connects it directly to the district seat of Diouloulou in the northwest.In 1982 a group named Entente Kabiline emerged in the village. In the early 1990s several people were murdered in Kabiline, including Kalifa Didhiou, a former political prisoner, and Famara Mary, a peasant farmer who was executed on 24 June 1990 by soldiers.The village contains Kabiline Primary School.Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres
Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres (born 7 June 1955) is a Puerto Rican nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1977 bombing of the Mobil Oil Building in Manhattan that killed one person and injured several others. Torres was linked by a fingerprint on a job application she filled at the Mobil building just before the bombing. She and her husband, Carlos Torres, were members of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), which claimed responsibility for the Mobil Oil bombing and numerous others. Supporters of Torres considered her a political prisoner. She was released on April 14, 2009.Michael Robartes and the Dancer
Michael Robartes and the Dancer is a 1921 book of poems by W. B. Yeats.
It includes the poems:
Michael Robartes and the Dancer
Solomon And The Witch
An Image From A Past Life
Sixteen Dead Men
On A Political Prisoner
The Leaders Of The Crowd
Towards Break Of Day
Demon And Beast
The Second Coming
A Prayer For My Daughter
A Meditation In Time Of War
To Be Carved On A Stone At Thoor BallyleeMohammed Ali al-Houthi
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi (Arabic: محمد علي الحوثي) (born 1979) is a Yemeni political figure who is former President of the Revolutionary Committee or Revolutionary Council, a body formed by Houthi militants. He was one of the military field commanders who led the group's seizure of the Yemeni capital Sana’a in September 2014, and eventually became the de facto leader of Yemen after the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni government in 2015. He is a cousin of Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, the group's leader.According to the 6 February statement by a Houthi representative, the Revolutionary Committee is in charge of governing Yemen and forming a new parliament, which will then appoint a five-member presidential council. However, other reports indicated the committee itself would serve as the presidential council.Al-Houthi has been described as a "former political prisoner".Riad al-Turk
Riad al-Turk (Arabic: رياض الترك, born 1930 in Homs) is a prominent Syrian opposition leader, former political prisoner for about 20 years in Syria, and supporter of democracy, who has been called "the Old Man of Syrian opposition." He was secretary general of the Syrian Communist Party (Political Bureau) since its foundation in 1973 until 2005.Sergei Grigoryants
Sergei Ivanovich Grigoryants (Russian: Серге́й Ива́нович Григорья́нц, Ukrainian: Сергі́й Іва́нович Григорья́нц, born 12 May 1941, Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union) is a Soviet dissident and former political prisoner, journalist, literary critic, chairman of the Glasnost Defense Foundation. He was imprisoned for 10 years in Chistopol jail as a political prisoner for anti-Soviet activities, from 1975 to 1980 and then four more years starting in 1983 on similar charges.Shock (Fear Factory song)
"Shock" is a song by American heavy metal band Fear Factory. It was the lead single from their 1998 album Obsolete and the first track on the album. Its music was composed by guitarist Dino Cazares and drummer Raymond Herrera. The lyrics were written by vocalist Burton C. Bell. The introduction of a concept album, "Shock" introduces its protagonist, a political prisoner known only as Edgecrusher, who declares his personal mission to destroy the totalitarian society in which he lives.
The song was featured in the TV series Angel from season 2 episode 10 "Reunion".Vasile Bătrânac
Vasile Bătrânac (born 1925, Plopi) was the head of the anti-Soviet group Arcaşii lui Ştefan and a political prisoner in the Soviet Union.Viktoras Petkus
Viktoras Petkus (May 17, 1928 – May 1, 2012) was a Lithuanian political activist and dissident, political prisoner, a founding member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group.Wang Bingzhang (dissident)
Wang Bingzhang (Chinese: 王炳章; pinyin: Wáng Bǐngzhāng; born February 6, 1948 ("Yinli" / Chinese Lunar Calendar date was December 30, 1947)) is a political activist and founder of two Chinese pro-democracy movements. He is considered a political prisoner of China.Wheel of Time (film)
Wheel of Time is a 2003 documentary film about Tibetan Buddhism by German director Werner Herzog. The title refers to the Kalachakra sand mandala that provides a recurring image for the film.
The film documents the two Kalachakra initiations of 2002, presided over by the fourteenth Dalai Lama. The first, in Bodhgaya India, was disrupted by the Dalai Lama's illness. Later that same year, the event was held again, this time without disruption, in Graz, Austria. The film's first location is the Bodhgaya, the site of the Mahabodhi Temple and the Bodhi tree. Herzog then turns to the pilgrimage at Mount Kailash, after which the film then focuses on the second gathering in Graz.
Herzog includes a personal interview with the Dalai Lama, as well as Tibetan former political prisoner Takna Jigme Zangpo, who served 37 years in a Chinese prison for his support of the International Tibet Independence Movement.Win Myint
Win Myint (Burmese: ဝင်းမြင့် [wɪ́ɴ mjɪ̰ɴ]; born 8 November 1951) is a Burmese politician and former political prisoner who is serving as the 10th President of Myanmar since 30 March 2018. He was the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Myanmar from 2016 to 2018. He also served as a member of parliament for House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw) from 2012 to 2018. Win Myint is seen as an important ally and placeholder for State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the actual head of government in Myanmar but is constitutionally barred from the presidency.Yosyf Zisels
Yosyf Zisels, also Josef Zissels (born 2 December 1946 in Tashkent) is a human rights activist and Ukrainian dissident.He was a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki group (UHG), involved in the samizdat movement, human rights activist, prominent activist in the Jewish movement in Ukraine, and a political prisoner.