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.
‘They took my passport and they said I’m not allowed to go far from Kigali….I felt like: ‘my world is finished‘. I had no choice. I had to take exile’.
– Juliette, a journalist from Rwanda.
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.