Prisoners of Conscience
Every year hundreds of people around the world are wrongfully imprisoned for no other reason than being critical of those in power. In some countries such as Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Russia, human rights advocates, opposition leaders, journalists, activists and others have been targets of persecution and crackdowns on critical voices. They have become prisoners of conscience.
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The Regional Office of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for East and Southeast Europe decided to shed light on the plight of political prisoners in the region by profiling six current and former political prisoners: Ahmet Altan (Turkey), Nazli Ilicak (Turkey), Afgan Mukhtarli (Azerbaijan), Gozel Bayramli (Azerbaijan), Anastasia Shevchenko (Russia), Roman Sushchenko (Ukraine).
It is a worrisome trend that four out of six political prisoners profiled in this series are journalists, who have been found guilty of nothing more than doing their job.
During the course of our research, some of the above prisoners have been freed.
Putting an end to political imprisonment has never been an easy task. First, there is no universal definition of the term political prisoner.
“A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a ‘political prisoner’:
a. 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 (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association;
b. if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence;
c. 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;
d. if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; or,
e. if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.” (SG/Inf(2001)34, paragraph 10).
Amnesty International, for example, uses the phrase “prisoner of conscience”, which refers to someone who is jailed because of their political, religious or other beliefs which are not in line with those of the government.
Second, tracking down and further researching cases of convicting someone for political crimes takes a lot of time and resources. In some cases the lines are blurred. Thus, it is difficult to determine who is a political prisoner.