About Our Political Prisoners Initiative
Free Them All: A Political Prisoners Initiative is a new Freedom House project that examines restrictions on the liberty of human rights defenders and prodemocracy activists.
Free Them All: A Political Prisoners Initiative is a new Freedom House project to help free political prisoners and push back against the jailing of activists as a tool of repression.
Authoritarian regimes are increasingly detaining, imprisoning, and using other methods to restrict the liberty of human rights defenders, journalists, and prodemocracy activists. The aim of such confinement is to silence and intimidate those who are seen as a threat to the perpetrators’ illegitimate grip on power. The practice is widespread, with numerous examples documented in every region of the world.
To illustrate the scale of the problem and better understand the steps we must take to address it, Freedom House will engage in a global mapping of cases and highlight the human toll that political imprisonment inflicts on the detained individuals, their families, and their supporters.
Freedom House’s ultimate goal is to enable these political prisoners to continue their courageous work and advance democratic freedoms, while holding authoritarian regimes accountable for efforts to silence them.
Defining political prisoners
Freedom House’s initiative focuses on a specific subset of individuals who have engaged in human rights defense and/or prodemocracy activism, and whose liberty has been restricted in an attempt to halt or hinder such work. Included in this category are human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and other media workers, as well as political activists advocating for democratic change.
Political imprisonment is not limited to jails or detention centers. Political prisoners also face travel or exit bans and house arrest. Many governments release activists from prison to appease the international community, but leave in place onerous requirements that continue to deprive the individuals of their liberty; often the subjects of these measures are required to report regularly to a police station and can be exposed to additional interrogations and mistreatment. They remain at the mercy of authorities who can rearrest or forcibly disappear them at any time. As the use of these noncarceral restrictions continues to grow, Freedom House’s efforts to spotlight them in tandem with traditional imprisonment will help to raise awareness of their effects and facilitate stronger policy responses by democratic governments.
While Freedom House’s initiative focuses on individuals engaged in human rights defense and/or prodemocracy activism, we acknowledge that many more people are unjustly detained or imprisoned than are included in our framework. For example, we do not include those detained based solely on their religion, ethnicity, gender, nationality, or membership in a group. Nor do we include those arrested for participation in a unique event or activity—such as a protest—without a broader pattern of human rights work or prodemocracy activism.
For questions about Freedom House’s Political Prisoners Initiative, please contact [email protected].