A Prisoner of Conscience (POC) is “any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing (in any form of words or symbols) any opinion which they honestly hold and which does not advocate or condone personal violence.”
Many countries practice indefinite detainment, often in solitary confinement, of individuals who have expressed political opinions that differ from those of the state, without informing their families or surroundings. Some have “disappeared” with no news for decades, with their families still attempting to locate them unsuccessfully. Repeated torture and abuse are not uncommon, and the basis of detention is not (necessarily) divulged.
It is not uncommon for people to be detained, tortured, and released after the authorities consequently realise that the prisoners were mistakenly “identified” and arrested. Insan condemns such arbitrary detainment as an obvious criminal transgression of a range of human rights.
Steps, Procedures, and Criteria
- As soon as we are informed by our network of activists or by family and/or friends of a disappearance, detention, or imprisonment of a dissident or activist, Insan’s researchers on the ground in the relevant country conduct an in-depth investigation regarding the case of each POC.
- Alongside putting our own machinery into motion, we also move to provide legal assistance for the POC.
- After thorough verification and compilation of all the available information, if suitable in the specific case, we publish the details when and where appropriate in order to generate public debate at national and international levels, thus intensifying pressure on the authorities to release the individual. From past experiences, we are aware that the knowledge that others are working for you and making your case known to the outside world is a source of comfort and hope to people who would otherwise feel helpless and alone. In bringing cases to public attention, however, each individual POC’s safety comes first in what we do, and we are mindful of possible dangers they may face inside prison or upon release in the instance of publicising their case.
- Alongside getting the international community’s attention, we also target the relevant bodies of the United Nations to ensure that they address the POC case with the national authority concerned.
- We arrange for the provision of financial support to the POC and/or their family as required.
- We monitor trials on an ongoing basis, and pressure governments to release the POCs.
Among other such successful results, Insan’s main achievement in this programme were our successful and intensive efforts which resulted in Bashar al Assad holding a meeting for the Syndicate of Arab Lawyers and announcing the release of the Damascus Spring POCs in 2005.
Currently, Insan is working with local partners in Syria to support the release of POCs. In some cases, Insan is providing support to families of detainees.