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.
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. If the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
led the opposition National League for Democracy which was victorious in 1990 general election. Under jail or house arrest for 15 out of the 21 years from 1990 to 2010.
was a political prisoner for four years under General Zia ul Haq.
former Argentine president who was a political prisoner under the National Reorganization Process.
Carter, African American boxer wrongfully imprisoned for 19 years in the US due to "an appeal to racism rather than reason.
was a leftist Italian writer and political activist who was jailed and spent 8 years in prison. He was released conditionally due to his health situation and died shortly after.
KIM DAE JUNG
served one term (1976-1979) and in 1980 was exiled to the United States, but returned in 1985 and became President of South Korea in 1998.
was imprisoned without charges in 1979 by the Rhodesian government in what is now Zimbabwe for his Shona-language music calling for revolution.
BENIGNO AQUINO JR.
of the Philippines was imprisoned during the martial law in the Philippines because of his vocal opposition against then President Ferdinand Marcos.
was imprisoned from 1963 until 1990 in South Africa due to his anti-apartheid activism and organizing attacks on several government targets. He later became the President of South Africa between 1994 and 1999.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
was imprisoned several times, most notoriously in Birmingham, Alabama.
was imprisoned numerous times by the British both in South Africa and India.
leader of the Socialist Party of the United States, was imprisoned by the US government for his opposition to the First World War.
former Brazilian president, was imprisoned by the right-wing military government between 1970 and 1973.
was imprisoned for two years and then deported by the US government for her opposition to the First World War.
was imprisoned by the British government for his opposition to the First World War.
was imprisoned by the British government for six months for opposing the First World War.
LEONORA CHRISTINA ULFELDT
was imprisoned in solitary confinement in a royal dungeon for twenty-one years as the wife and later widow of Count Corfitz Ulfeldt.
a Chinese pro-democracy activist, was imprisoned multiple times (from the late 1980's to prior to his death in 2017) in China by the Chinese government.
was a Malaysian oppotion party leader was imprisoned twice because of sodomy case.
LIM GUAN ENG