A Note on Political Prisoners

The majority of people who are wrongfully imprisoned and tortured in the Indian prison system (and all over the world) are NOT political prisoners. They are citizens who often belong to communities of religious, ethnic, cultural or racial minorities or sexuality and gender minorities.

Stories of people who have been illegally detained or imprisoned for minor infractions (i.e. petty theft) or on mere suspicion (i.e.state terrorism) are overwhelming. These innocent people often have no political or activist affiliation, and not surprisingly many do not have the funds to ensure adequate legal advocacy. They have never gone through a due process accorded to them by every law.

This is not to say that activism should shift focus from political prisoners — who are detained because of their challenges to exploitative social and state structures. Any democracy that claims to honor the political will of its people cannot tolerate political prisoners. It is the absence of dissent that should signal our alarm.

It is also critical, now more so than ever before, that the prison system and the legal machinery that allows such injustices to take place is also vigorously challenged. By the time, a case gets media attention and public pressure builds, the person in question has already suffered enormously.

Justice is not a commodity, it cannot be left to the mercy of public and media attention.

There is a truly staggering number of political prisoners currently lost to the system, away from the scrutiny of the public eye. What is remarkable is that despite a high degree of international and national pressure on a relatively small number of them, these prisoners remain in jail. As attention and public interest inevitably wanes, these prisoners continue to be held captive despite obvious political motivation and lack of evidence. We can no longer afford to rely on a broken legal system to deliver justice that it has proven to be incapable of delivering.

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