Prisoners of conscience

Prisoner of conscience (POC) is a term coined by Peter Benenson in a 28 May 1961 article ("The Forgotten Prisoners") for the London Observer newspaper. Most often associated with the human rights organisation Amnesty International, the term can refer to anyone imprisoned because of their race, religion, or political views. It also refers to those who have been imprisoned and/or persecuted for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs.


The article "The Forgotten Prisoners" by Peter Benenson, published in The Observer 28 May 1961, launched the campaign "Appeal for Amnesty 1961" and first defined a "prisoner of conscience".[2]


The primary goal for this year-long campaign, founded by the English lawyer Peter Benenson and a small group of writers, academics and lawyers including Quaker peace activist Eric Baker, was to identify individual prisoners of conscience around the world and then campaign for their release. In early 1962, the campaign had received enough public support to become a permanent organization and was renamed Amnesty International.

Under British law, Amnesty International was classed as a political organisation and therefore excluded from tax-free charity status.[3] To work around this, the "Fund for the Persecuted" was established in 1962 to receive donations to support prisoners and their families. The name was later changed to the "Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund" and is now a separate and independent charity which provides relief and rehabilitation grants to prisoners of conscience in the UK and around the world.[4]

Amnesty International has, since its founding, pressured governments to release those persons it considers to be prisoners of conscience.[5] Governments, conversely, tend to deny that the specific prisoners identified by Amnesty International are, in fact, being held on the grounds Amnesty claims; they allege that these prisoners pose genuine threats to the security of their countries.[6]

The phrase is now widely used in political discussions to describe a political prisoner, whether or not Amnesty International has specifically adopted the case, although the phrase has a different scope and definition than that of political prisoner.[7]

Current Amnesty International prisoners of conscience

Below is an incomplete list of individuals that Amnesty International considers to be prisoners of conscience, organized by country.


External links

  • Amnesty International resources about prisoners of conscience
  • Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund


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