Political prisoner

From Academic Kids

A political prisoner is anyone held in prison or otherwise detained, perhaps under house arrest, because their ideas or image either challenge or pose a real or potential threat to the state. In many cases, a veneer of legality is used to disguise the fact that someone is a political prisoner. Trumped-up criminal charges may have been used to imprison the political prisoner, or he or she may have been denied bail unfairly, denied parole when it would reasonably have been given to another prisoner, or special powers may be invoked by the judiciary. Who is or is not regarded as a political prisoner may depend upon one's own subjective political perspective.

Governments of all regime types--fascist, communist, theocratic, and liberal democratic--have held political prisoners. In the Soviet Union, dubious psychiatric diagnoses were sometimes used to confine political prisoners. In Nazi Germany, Night and Fog prisoners were among the first victims of fascist repression. In North Korea, entire families are jailed if one family member is suspected of anti-government sentiments. In America, Rep. Charlie Rangel and others have called those imprisoned due to the War on drugs, political prisoners [1] (http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/pressroom/pressrelease/pr_august15_00.cfm).

Governments typically reject assertions that they hold political prisoners. For example, during the Vietnam War, the Government of South Vietnam denied that it held any political prisoners, despite the fact that approximately 100,000 civilians were imprisoned as inmates in 41 detention facilities for civilians. These included non-combatant members of the National Liberation Front or NLF, including village chiefs, schoolteachers, tax collectors, postmen, medical personnel, as well as many peasants whose relatives were members of the NLF.

Political prisoners sometimes write memoirs of their experiences and resulting insights. See list of memoirs of political prisoners. Some of these memoirs have become important political texts.

In the parlance of many violent groups and their sympathizers, political prisoner includes persons imprisoned because they await trial for, or have been convicted for, actions usually qualified as terrorism. The assumption is that these actions were morally justified by a legitimate fight against the government that imprisons the said persons, including in the case of democratic governments. For instance, French anarchist groups typically call "political prisoners" the former members of Action Directe held in France for murders.[2] (http://www.cnt-f.org/archive_actu.php?body=86)

Amnesty International normally campaigns only for the release of prisoners of conscience or POCs, which include both political prisoners as well as those imprisoned for their religious or philosophical beliefs. (Distinguishing politics from religion and philosophy is often difficult.) To reduce controversy and as a matter of principle, the organization's policy is to work only for prisoners who have not committed or advocated violence. Thus there are political prisoners who do not fit the narrower criteria for POCs.


Examples of persons thought (by some) to be current political prisoners

Further reading

  • n.a. 1973. Political Prisoners in South Vietnam. London: Amnesty International Publications.
  • Luz Arce. 2003. The Inferno: A Story of Terror and Survival in Chile. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299195546
  • Ben Kiernan. 2002. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1975. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300096496
  • Stephen M. Kohn. 1994. American Political Prisoners. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 0275944158
  • Barbara Olshansky. 2002. Secret Trials and Executions: Military Tribunals and the Threat to Democracy. New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1583225374

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