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New Council of Europe criteria will help define "political prisoners"

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington, October 4, 2012 - Freedom House welcomes the resolution passed October 3 by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) that sets concrete criteria for what defines a "political prisoner," the first time such criteria has been documented by a major intergovernmental organization. According to Resolution 1900, adopted in a 100-64 vote, a person shall be regarded a political prisoner if they have been deprived of personal liberty in violation of guarantees set forth by the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of expression and information; and freedom of assembly and association. Freedom House urges other international organizations to follow suit.

Additional criteria include detention imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offense; the length or conditions of detention being clearly out of proportion to the offense; a clearly discriminatory manner of the detention; and unfair, politically motivated proceedings leading to the imprisonment.

"The adoption of this resolution is a major step in creating a uniform, international standard for how the world defines political prisoners," said Freedom House president David J. Kramer. "By setting clear, unambiguous criteria, the Council of Europe thwarts attempts by authoritarian states to deny the existence of politically motivated cases and allows the Council to hold all of its member nations accountable for their human rights record."

The official adoption of the criteria, which were originally drafted in 2001, comes after a contentious debate over the definition earlier this summer following a report by PACE special rapporteur for political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Christopher Straesser. The report was heavily criticized for the inclusion of activists from extreme religious groups in the list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, based on this definition. The resolution passed yesterday explicitly excludes individuals who have committed terrorist crimes from consideration as political prisoners.

"The decision is important for democracy advocates not only in Azerbaijan, but in all member states of the Council of Europe where criticism of government is often met with persecution. We commend the Council on its persistent efforts to create greater legal protection for individuals whose fundamental rights and freedoms have been violated for political reasons," continued Kramer.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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