Who is a “political prisoner”?

No universally-accepted definition of the term “political prisoner” exists

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No universally-accepted definition of the term “political prisoner” exists.

The understanding adopted by the Memorial Human Rights Centre is oriented towards the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms and the mobilisation of public solidarity with the victims of political repression. It is based on Resolution No. 1900 (2012) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.


We consider two categories of people to be political prisoners (prosecuted in a criminal case for political motives), subjected to criminal prosecution.

— One, those who have been prosecuted exclusively for the use of their civil rights, relating to belonging to an ethnic, religious or other group, or for their convictions or views (people that Amnesty International calls prisoners of conscience).

— Two, those who have been prosecuted, on the one hand, with the implementation of violations of the law or obviously selectively, and on the other, because of the authorities’ political motivation.


We exclude from the list of political prisoners

  • people who have used force against an individual, or
  • people who have called for force to be used on the basis of race, religion,
    ethnic identity and so on.

This exception, however, does not mean that we think the prosecution of such people is unconditionally justified or legal, or that we approve of such prosecutions.


A full justification for inclusion as a political prisoner is published at the International Governance for the Definition of the Term “Political Prisoner”.

Memorial Human Rights Centre

First published on 20 October 2015 by Memorial HRC