Free Them All: A Political Prisoners Initiative
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Amidst a years-long decline in global freedom, public demands for fundamental rights and accountable governance are growing more urgent around the world. Entrenched autocratic leaders recognize these demands as a threat to their grip on power, and their regimes have consequently intensified efforts to silence human rights defenders and democracy activists. Through this new initiative, Freedom House aims to document and study the cases of the thousands of activists who have been imprisoned or otherwise deprived of their liberty, and to advocate for their immediate release.
An array of targets and tactics
The types of people targeted are myriad, and they are found in every region of the world. They include journalists, antigovernment protest leaders, human rights lawyers, artists, opposition politicians, and women’s rights advocates, among others. But ultimately they all seek to effect meaningful democratic change and to defend basic human rights.
In reprisal for their efforts, they have been arrested for and convicted of a multitude of supposed crimes, including grave offenses such as subverting state power, undermining national security, and engaging in terrorism. Once in custody, they frequently suffer from torture, enforced disappearance, and denial of medical care. Even after they are released from harsh prison sentences or detention without charge, they may face additional restrictions on their liberty, such as travel bans or requirements to regularly report to the authorities, increasing the risk of rearrest. Numerous democracy and human rights advocates are caught in this cycle, unable to fully recover their freedom.
A global problem
A new initiative
Freedom House seeks to both highlight and combat authoritarian repression, in part by emphasizing its human toll. The experiences of the individuals profiled here illustrate the significant pressures and harms that human rights defenders and prodemocracy activists face in reprisal for their work. Located around the globe, these artists, journalists, and activists often languish in squalid prison conditions, sentenced or detained with little regard for due process rights, and unable to see their legal representatives or loved ones.
These individuals represent only a fraction of the many democracy and human rights defenders worldwide who endure similar circumstances. Mapping the scale and scope of such restrictions, and the stories behind the numbers, is essential to holding perpetrators accountable and securing the unconditional release of all confined activists. Their personal freedom, combined with long-term support for those who wish to continue their democracy and human rights work, is in turn a necessity if democratic forces are to reverse recent trends and roll back the expansion of authoritarian rule.
Emblematic cases of political prisoners
About our initiative
Free Them All: A Political Prisoners Initiative is a new Freedom House project intended to help free political prisoners and push back against the jailing of activists as a tool of repression. Click here to learn more about the project.
This transformative initiative to help free political prisoners around the world and push back on the imprisonment of activists as a tool of repression has been made possible by generous support from the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, Gideon Foundation and three individuals who wish to remain anonymous.
- Margaux Ewen, Director, Political Prisoners Initiative
- Amy Slipowitz, Research Manager, Political Prisoners Initiative and Freedom in the World
- Mina Loldj, Research Associate, Political Prisoners Initiative
Shannon O’Toole, Tyler Roylance, David Meijer, Elisha Aaron, and Lora Uhlig provided editing support. Michael Abramowitz, Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, Annie Boyajian, Adrian Shahbaz, Lara Shane, and Nate Schenkkan provided valuable feedback on the report.
Matt Hooper, Elizabeth Rosen, Andrea Pino-Silva, and Khadijah Ally also provided instrumental support.
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