Arrests for Political Crimes: Theoretical Concept

Post-prison roads: Situation of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience in Syria after Being Released from Custody

Since the creation of authority and the appearance of active political and social forces in societies, cases of resistance, defiance and refusal to accept the facts has taken different forms of opposition.  This is a direct result of mankind’s quest for a just explanation of the conditions of life.

   Every challenge to a present political regime and every rejection are forbidden by authority.  Such acts often lead to the detention of people and their disappearance inside political prisons without valid legal sentences.  Oppressive practices differed between societies, depending on their respective political regimes and the active political and social forces within such societies.

Michel Foucault considers that the systems of punishment evolved across history towards the total control and submission of the body.  The purpose of punishment has not only been to control and subdue the body, or as Foucault calls it: “the political technology of the body”; but more importantly, to affect the mind and make the mind submissive.  The body is only a means of controlling the mind.  The mind is the source of movement and activity, so the goal of torture is to produce submissive bodies and packaged conscience.  The mechanisms of punishment and the means of torture and submission developed from hanging and crucifixion to death by firing squad and electrical shock.  The phenomenon of political arrest is nothing new, although it seems endemic in non-democratic countries suffering from dictatorial, theocratic and autocratic regimes. 

One may define political detention in two ways.  First, according to Amnesty International, prisoners of conscience are those who are arrested because of their religious, political or any other set of beliefs, including their ethnicity, gender, race, language, national or social background, economic position, or any other position, even if they do not use violence. 

Second, political prisoners are defined as those arrested for the opinion and belief that they express against the authorities in their countries.  Although both definitions greatly overlap, the term prisoner of conscience is wider than the term political prisoner.  Usually the material conditions of political prisoners are worse and less fair than the conditions of ordinary inmates, in a legal context of lack of effectiveness, and the silence of organized and informal civil and communal activity.  Consequently, the effects of political detention on the psychological and social levels are more dramatic, considering that the political prisoner is treated, from the legal perspective, more badly than non-political (criminal) prisoners in undemocratic regimes, insofar as the conditions of arrest, investigation, trial, or the resulting sentences and additional punishments are concerned.

Authorities that practice this type of arrest regard the political prisoner as an extremely dangerous criminal, a traitor or an enemy to the homeland, especially in political contexts that mix authority and patriotism. Often the abusive treatment of political detainees is legitimized through the penal codes and other laws of exception, as  the existing political authorities have the power to arbitrarily set the degree of danger of the political detainee and the legitimacy of his action, on the legal and social level, and as they are able to fabricate accusations against the political activist, which  gradation could lead to treason.

All of this applies to the Syrian situation that has known these types of political arrests and is still leaving with them until this moment.  The number of Syrians who have been arrested and who have experienced the ordeal of imprisonment is a large percentage and an amount one cannot ignore.  The tragedy of the detention experience does not end with the release of the prisoner but also extends to all aspects of his life after imprisonment.  This Report will discuss the tragedy of prisoners of conscience and the experience of political prisoners in Syria following their release, relying primarily on testimonies of former prisoners.

To download full report in Adobe pdf format. (File size: 138) please click here