Prisoners of Conscience – Supporting People who Defend Human Rights

Our mission is to protect and uphold human rights by positively transforming the lives of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders to enable them to live free, safe and self-sufficient lives.

Since our inception in 1962, we’ve provided rapid financial and practical assistance to more than 10,000 prisoners of conscience and their dependents and distributed more than £4m. This has been achieved by exercising expertise built up over many years and by utilising our network of over 50 different distribution channels including human rights organisations, refugee groups, community organisations, universities and solicitors.

Support provided in 2020-2021

Who is a prisoner of conscience?

A prisoner of conscience is a person who has been persecuted for the nonviolent act or expression of their conscientiously held beliefs.

While we are free to express how we feel and what we believe, others are not so lucky. All around the world, people are persecuted for standing up for their beliefs and human rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience around the world are tirelessly challenging injustice and human rights abuses to change the world for the better. Yet their efforts to ensure human rights of all are respected often come at a high cost. 

Oppressive regimes around the world are relying on intimidation, threats and violence to silence those who have been brave enough to stand up for what they believe. Prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders experience many forms of persecution. They may lose their jobs and access to public services; they may be barred from participation in social and cultural life; they may be harassed, bullied, intimidated and threatened. Physical violence is common as too is sexual abuse, rape and torture. Many are imprisoned, often thrown into solitary confinement with no or conflicting information about why they are in jail or what will happen next. Many ‘disappear’ with their families never hearing from them again; others are murdered. The ‘lucky ones’ escape, going underground or forced into exile. If they flee to another country, they frequently arrive traumatised, destitute and fearful for the future.

PoC’s recent research indicates that at any one time there are tens of thousands of human rights defenders who are persecuted and in need of our support.

How we help?

We provide financial and practical assistance to prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders through our Package of Support to help them rebuild their lives in dignity and safety, and continue standing up for what they believe in. Our support ranges from rapid financial assistance by way of grants to relieve the immediate hardship and family reunion needs, to bursaries and employability support to help people re-qualify and re-establish their careers, to practical support, including an alumni forum, volunteering opportunities and referrals to legal and mental health services, to help them reintegrate into society and achieve economic independence.

“Prisoners of Conscience gave me a new life and I
will forever be grateful. My life and achievement are a
testament to the amazing work you do to change lives, offer hope where there is hopelessness, and enable and empower people like me with knowledge and skills which they can use to impact the UK society and beyond.”

– Victoria*, teacher and human rights activist from Zimbabwe



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