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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Who are Prisoners of Conscience?

Prisoners of conscience are persons imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political, religious, or other conscientiously held beliefs, or for their identity, even though they have neither used nor advocated violence.

Prisoners of conscience exist even though international standards protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals worldwide. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaffirms equal rights for men and women, and states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms it sets forth, without distinction of any kind. Eveyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person (Article 3). No one is to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile (Article 9). Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 18), to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), and to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (Article 20).

Yet governments imprison, torture and sometimes execute people because their views, who they are, what they believe or how they have chosen to express their convictions are considered unacceptable. The "crimes" of which prisoners of conscience are accused or have been convicted should not be crimes at all. When governments imprison people for these reasons, they restrict the flow of information, narrow the space for independent civil society, diminish the power of people to express their views and prevent challenges to their authority.  Artists, bloggers, community activists, dissidents, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, labor leaders, teachers, religious leaders, and members of religious communities are among the prisoners of conscience found around the world today.