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PACE resolution to define the notion of political prisoners

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (“PACE”) supported the definition of the political prisoner put forward by the rapporteur Christoph Strasser. A relevant resolution was adopted on 3 October 2012 during the PACE plenary session.

The resolution was carried by the vote of 100 to 64. If the resolution had not been passed, the future of the Assembly’s work on the issue of political prisoners would have been put into question.

The text of the adopted resolution reaffirms the general criteria put forward by experts in 2001, when the notion of “political prisoners” was elaborated within the Council of Europe by independent experts, mandated to assess cases of alleged political prisoners in Armenia and Azerbaijan in the context of the accession of the two States to the Council of Europe (“CoE”).

According to the rapporteur, the criteria developed by the independent experts have proved to be legally sound, fair and operative, and are also non-discriminatory. Moreover, they are not country-specific, even though they were developed and first applied in the context described above of the accession of two new member States to the CoE.

In the explanatory memorandum attached to the resolution the rapporteur also responded to the fears voiced by some parliamentarians that the definition may be misused in order to justify terrorist acts. Such concerns were raised especially by MPs from Spain and Turkey. According to Mr Strasser, however, they prove to be unfounded since “it is perfectly clear that terrorists, whether they belong to the ETA, to the PKK or any other terrorist organisation, do not fall under the definition of political prisoners, even if they claim that they have committed their heinous crimes for “political” motives”.

Under the resolution adopted on 3 October 2012:

“A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a ‘political prisoner’:

a) if the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association;

b) if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence;

c) if, for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of;

d) if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; or,

e) if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.”

In addition, it has been reaffirmed that those deprived of their personal liberty for terrorist crimes shall not be considered political prisoners if they have been prosecuted and sentenced for such crimes according to national legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The resolution adopted on 3 October 2012 is based on a motion “The definition of political prisoners” urging the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to provide a definition of a political prisoner before any report on political prisoners is prepared in respect of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova or any other Council of Europe member state. The adoption of the resolution is a key element to the work on the report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The latter will be debated during the first session of 2013.

Before the Wednesday debate Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged the parliamentarians to support the resolution. From among the Polish delegates, Robert Biedroń and Marek Borowski voted for the adoption of the resolution.

According to the criteria established by the resolution, persons detained for expressing critical views towards the state authorities will be considered “political prisoners”. This problem especially concerns Azerbaijan. However, the definition may also be applied to detained persons from Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Undoubtedly, the notion also describes a number of persons detained in Belarus. Belarus, however, still is not a member of the CoE.

The English text of the adopted resolution can be found here.
Voting results are available here.

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