In light of how the phrase “political prisoner” is misused in Poland, it is worth knowing what such a curse really means. It is hell for these people and their loved ones.
He is probably the most famous political prisoner in the world today. After long weeks of uncertainty, we received eyewitness proof that Alexei Navalny is alive. Emaciated, with a shaved head and an unchanging sense of humor. Aleś Białacki, Andrzej Poczobut and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s husband – Siarhiej are also political prisoners. All of them are kept behind bars by the Belarusian regime.
– I don’t know if my husband is alive. I don’t know what condition Andrzej Poczobut is in. I haven’t had any information for months. Lukashenko is blocking any contact in order, firstly, to oppress families, and secondly, to break prisoners, explains Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian opposition. The regime in Minsk is trying to break prisoners by beating them unconscious and causing extensive marks. These are innocent people who ended up behind bars because they fought for a democratic Belarus. – The fact that a politician is in prison does not mean that he is a political prisoner – emphasizes Maria Ejchart, deputy minister of justice.
There is no uniform definition of a political prisoner in international law. However, it is generally accepted that a political prisoner or prisoner of conscience is a person punished and imprisoned not because of committing actual crimes, but because of personal beliefs or ideas, which most often constitute criticism of the authorities. – Amnesty International calls prisoners of conscience those who have been convicted or imprisoned, either in unfair court proceedings or without a trial at all, solely because they exercised their rights and freedoms. For example, they exercised freedom of speech, criticized the authorities, and exercised freedom of assembly, explains Anna Błaszczak-Banasiak, director of Amnesty International in Poland. Amnesty International is a non-governmental organization fighting for human rights around the world, actively working to free illegally detained prisoners of conscience.
When, after the detention of Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, Law and Justice groups started calling them political prisoners, Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights strongly protested. “Describing prisoners Maciej Wąsik and Mariusz Kamiński as political prisoners is a deeply unfair distortion, directly damaging the memory of people actually imprisoned because of their beliefs, attitudes, fight for democracy and human rights,” reads a statement from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. “The term ‘political prisoner’ is most often used to refer to people who are imprisoned for their ideas, on the basis of unfounded charges, and their imprisonment was in violation of the guarantee of a fair trial. (…) We warn against the abuse of this term, as it diminishes is its importance in relation to people who are actually in a dramatic situation,” adds Amnesty International.
Real prisoners of conscience included Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent a decade in Soviet gulags, and Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid, and was released after 27 years in prison. Lech Wałęsa was also a political prisoner – he was detained many times during the Polish People’s Republic and interned during martial law.
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Main photo source: Reuters (archive)