Political Prisoners in a War Context

Topic: Political Culture
Words: 2586 Pages: 9


Today, much attention is paid to political imprisonment and the impact of prisoners on societies before and after wars. At this moment, the world has already experienced multiple conflicts at different levels. International examples are World War I, World War II, the Sino-Indian War, and the Cold War. The Algerian Civil War, the Chinese Communist Party’s War, and the Spanish Civil War affected the citizens of the same country. Each event made leaders and ordinary citizens re-organize the government, consider available resources, and choose between enemies and allies. Most people accepted changes and followed the existing rules and regulations. However, in human history, many individuals were not ready to support the government, and their political activities provoked discontent and the necessity of punishment. Such names as Jawaharlal Nehru, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi are globally known, and their contributions were critical for their countries. In addition to their strong ideas and political enthusiasm, all of them were imprisoned for different purposes and periods. In this proposal, the review of several political prisoners’ influence will be developed through the prism of wars to create a background for a future research project.

Research Questions and Goals

The main objective of this research project will be the evaluation of war’s impact on political prisoners from different countries. Addressing such an extensive goal, three additional purposes will be set to define an overall plan of work:

  1. to give a clear definition of the main concepts in research;
  2. to choose several real-life examples;
  3. to examine the progress of political imprisonment in a war context.

There are many sources that contain information on this topic, and the task is to check credible articles to achieve the goals. This research will be based on three main questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a political prisoner?
  2. How do wars affect political prisoners?
  3. What were the brightest examples of political prisoners before, during, and after wars?

Literature Review

Political imprisonment is a rather a provocative topic because of the inability to find a clear and permanent definition. The evaluation of countries’ pasts, the personal characteristics of prisoners, and the conditions under which a release or escape occurred is required. Despite the intention to create appropriate conditions, many political prisoners faced environmental injustices and health hazards, questioning the positions of prison authorities (Pellow, 2018). Therefore, this proposal allows identifying the major characteristics of political imprisonment and learning a particular external factor, a war, and an internal factor, a prisoner’s personality. The goal is to review the literature and create a framework for research that will help examine the impact of political prisoners on societies before and after wars. The plan is to interpret the existing definitions, mention the impact of human rights organizations, examine the role of wars on political imprisonment, and focus on several historical figures and their impact on societies.

Political Prisoner

Many scholars, philosophers, and researchers introduce their definitions of political prisoners and their impact on the population. According to Gruffydd-Jones (2019), international attention to this status from human rights organizations and media turns out to be effective in promoting the release. However, the question is who can be identified as a political prisoner and under which conditions. In most studies, people define a political prisoner as a person “determined or imprisoned because of his or her political beliefs or activities, under laws designed to restrict dissent or opposition” (Sofroniou, 2019, p. 18). Myrick and Weinstein (2021) address human rights diplomacy and explain such prisoners as “unjustly detained for criticizing their government” because demonstrating their beliefs is an example of human rights abuse (p. 391). These are insufficient reasons for imprisonment due to political disagreements and misjudgments.

Using the examples of current political prisoners and protestors, it is also possible to create a better understanding of the concept. Aburto (2020) focuses on the experience of Amaya Coppens, a student activist in Nicaragua whose ideas instigated Ortega’s regime. Coppens underlines that being a political prisoner is “a way of daily protest… because they want to shut me up, and they haven’t managed to do it in any way” (as cited in Aburto, 2020, para. 24). In other words, if a person does not want to take the position imposed by the government, it is normal to turn him or her into a political prisoner. Such ambiguous and biased attitudes increase the power of influence of political prisoners on societies, and the factor of war strengthens the diversity of thoughts.

Wars for Political Prisoners

Political imprisonment is a sign of controversies within the same country, but it is not the only factor of misunderstandings between individuals and the government. War is another form of conflict that is a “continuation of political intercourse with the admixture of different means” (von Clausewitz, 1883, as cited in Sofroniou, 2019, p. 27). It is always hard for people to accept common norms and rules when their countries are involved in a war. This process changes human lives and an understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Before wars, it is normal for citizens to agree that a person who goes against the leader becomes a political prisoner. After wars, beliefs are damaged, and principles are ruined. Therefore, releasing political prisoners after wars or other forms of international interference and attention is common (Gruffydd-Jones, 2019). According to MacMillan (2020), war raises multiple fundamental questions about the essence of human society, together with uncontrolled emotions. War is always associated with change, and it is wrong to ignore its impact on the existing truths and statements.

Human Rights Organizations

Before and after wars, the idea of human rights is never the same. When political prisoners want to use their basic rights to free themselves or prove their innocence, the best way is to address international law and search for advocacy among human rights organizations. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are international non-governmental agencies that aim at raising the public’s awareness of how human rights can be abused and how to mobilize activists (Myrick & Weinstein, 2021). These organizations analyze data, investigate cases, and create reports to show that not all people should be defined as political prisoners, which might explain the differences in their impact on the population. Sometimes, the law and evidence are enough to protect a person and remove a so-called stamp of a criminal or prisoner. The purpose of human rights organizations is to shine a light on the conditions under which political prisoners were arrested or poorly treated (Gruffydd-Jones, 2021). World history has many examples of such prisoners, which helps identify their overall impact on society.

Indian Political Prisoners

India is where political repressions and civil conflicts were common for a long period. The names of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi have already become a part of Indian history to explain the country’s progress and development. Gandhi was imprisoned for six years because he disobeyed the British colonial system in India (Balasubramanian et al., 2020). He participated in several military conflicts, including World War I, the Anglo-Boer War, and the South African revolt. Before and after the wars strengthened Gandhi’s impact on the Indian population. He was a political prisoner, but his non-violent resistance made him one of the most respected individuals across the globe who could change the nature of political protests. At the beginning of the 1900s, another prominent political figure, Jawaharlal Nehru, went to prison for the first time, and during the next 20 years, he served eight more detention periods (Balasubramanian & Venkatraman, 2021). He was a prominent Gandhi successor who showed how to strive for Indian independence and resist international interference. The wars released Gandhi and Nehru, and the major outcome was public support and belief that solutions could be peaceful for the nation.

From Prisoners to Leaders

The events under which Tunisian politician Rached Ghannouchi and South African leader Nelson Mandela differed considerably, but their experiences proved that wars and public support could expand the boundaries. Ghannouchi was imprisoned and tortured during two different reigns for 11 years (Mcdowall, 2022). The revolution allowed the man to find a number of supporters who were not satisfied with the government’s decision. People climbed roofs and created different posts to show their respect for Ghannouchi’s ideas (Mcdowall, 2022). Before the conflict, not many citizens knew Ghannouchi, and after the revolution was inevitable, his ideas about women’s rights and democracy were recognized.

The example of Mandela shows how the post-war growth of human rights encouraged people with different backgrounds. Although his imprisonment was characterized by severe restrictions and limitations, his popularity in society was hard to neglect (Evans, 2019). Many international organizations and activists demonstrated their desire to help Mandela and prove the worth of freedom. After he was released, most myths about his personality and skills were broken (Evans, 2019). At the same time, Mandela re-evaluated the situation and used networks to promote his ideas. The government, on the other hand, proclaimed him a terrorist whose activities were illegal and devastating for the country.

The Heritage of Political Prisoners

Regardless of their crimes and contributions before and after wars, there are many political prisoners whose experience continues to inspire modern people. In China, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced for 11 years and died of liver cancer because the government rejected his request for treatment abroad (The spirit of Liu Xiaobo will never die, 2018). Civil conflicts in China never stop because some individuals prefer to underline their freedoms and decrease the role of the government in their lives. In 2009, Xiaobo was arrested for subversion of state power in his intention to fight for a more democratic China, freedom of speech, and freedom of press (The spirit of Liu Xiaobo will never die, 2018). Today, many people worldwide believe in his ideas and promote reformation from the top. Death was the only way to release Xiaobo from jail, and this example bothers people because people need to believe that the government and police protect people but not punish them for their beliefs in a better future.

Compared to Xiabo, who died not long time ago, the imprisonment of Emma Goldman happed almost a century ago. Still, her heritage and anarchist ideas contradicting the government’s interests are commonly discussed. At the end of the 19th century, a line of serious economic crises covered most parts of the world (Bies, 2019). Goldman protested against gender inequality, unfair employment, and female freedoms. After her release from jail, a multi-ethnic crowd gathered to support her activities (Bies, 2019). Her imprisonment was a sign that women did not have enough space to develop their skills and choose the industry upon their interests, not social expectations. In a short period, a political prisoner with several arrests became a symbol of anarchist hope.

Methodology and Hypothesis

The offered literature review introduces a good opportunity to develop the main hypothesis for this project. There is a thought that past wars had a significant impact on political prisoners in terms of their motivation, cooperation with society, and choice of protesting methods. It is not enough to consider war as a period when people could have new motivational goals or cooperative approaches. The idea of a future project is to combine several aspects of the work of political prisoners and understand if wars can promote these individuals’ release, forgiveness, or freedom of speech.

Focusing on the chosen research issue and the necessity to clarify the impact of wars on political prisoners, a systematic review of the literature will be a primary research method for this study. First, the identification of the periods is required to understand what political prisoners will be addressed in the research. World War I was one of the most critical moments in world history, defining the turning point for the analysis. Recent military conflicts also affect the conditions under which political prisoners can be released or escape. Therefore, the constraint classification will be between the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 2000s.

The second stage in planning a future study will be the sources to gather credible data for analysis. The primary literature sources are personal diaries of prisoners, newspaper/journal archives, and books with credible references. Direct contact with former political prisoners is impossible for the researcher. Therefore, attention will be paid to the information that was published since the 1930s (primary sources only) and during the last five years (secondary sources). A systematic qualitative review will appraise data that covers the chosen topic. Such key terms as “political prisoner,” “war,” “military conflict,” “government,” “justice,” and “release” will be used for a search strategy. It is expected to find at least 5-10 primary sources and about ten secondary full-text English sources.

Findings and Analysis

The conditions under which political prisoners are treated before, during, and after wars vary significantly in each country. Some nations address the issues of environmental justice to underline the rights of political prisoners regardless of their race, age, and gender (Pellow, 2018). Most prisoners are social activists whose words or steps are inappropriate for the government. In this case, the war or any other military conflict is a reason for changing the existing agreements and regulations (MacMillan, 2020). Wars directly affect political prisoners and make it possible to release or escape and strengthen their cooperation with society. Some prisoners could get the freedom of speech and develop their beliefs. According to Gruffydd-Jones (2021), wars promote international publicity of political prisoners, which facilitates their release and support among citizens. There were many historical examples when dangerous political activists became national heroes and leaders within their countries. Still, despite the cause of imprisonment, the nation needs to treat all individuals humanely and respect the rights to food, water, life, and equal treatment before the law. These basics cannot be ignored either in relation to political prisoners, prisoners of war, or other citizens.


In the future, the offered proposal will be thoroughly examined and discussed regarding political prisoners’ lives, influences, and achievements. Sometimes, it does not take much time for a person to be recognized in the national or international political arena and find supporters or opponents. People develop their beliefs, share judgments, and underline administrative mistakes or social improvements, which do not contribute to positive governmental reactions. As a result, an individual becomes a political prisoner, with the freedom of speech being restricted and personal rights being neglected. The discussion of this research should be continued, focusing on war impact from the point of view of a political prisoner.


The idea of examining political prisoners before and after wars is characterized by several critical aspects. First, such prisoners might have various impacts on societies and the development of wars in general. The statements that turn social activists into political prisoners become strong arguments to motivate war participants. Thus, releases or escapes from prisons during wartime are common. The goal of the future project is to gather information about several social activists whose impact on populations was evident and evaluate the changes related to wars. The names mentioned in this proposal are not the ultimate, and a more profound literature review will allow choosing the individuals who meet the required criteria within the already established research methods. War is found as one of the most complex social events that might affect several nations in a short period. The main research intention is to initiate an extensive and thoughtful discussion and observe how the war changed the lives of political prisoners and their roles in society.


Aburto, W. M. (2020). Amanya Coppens: In Nicaragua “there’s no turning back.” Confidential. Web.

Balasubramanian, T., & Venkatraman, V. (2021). The chronological sketch of Jawaharlal Nehru: His spirit of nation building activities – A critical study. The Journal of Indian Art History Congress, 27(14), 58-69.

Balasubramanian, T., Dhanalakshmi, N., Saravanakumar, A. R., Paranthaman, G., Manikandan, M., & Chinnappar, G. (2020). Mahatma Gandhi’s life and freedom struggle. Journal of Shanghai Jiaotong University, 16(7), 928-941.

Bies, J. D. (2019). A transnational perspective of Emma Goldman’s evolution as an anarcha-feminist. History Research, 7(1), 7-16.

Evans, M. (2019). News from Robben Island: Journalists’ visits to Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment. Journal of Southern African Studies, 45(6), 1111-1130.

Gruffydd-Jones, J. J. (2021). International attention and the treatment of political prisoners. International Studies Quarterly, 65(4), 999-1011.

MacMillan, M. (2020). War: How conflict shaped us. Penguin Random House.

Mcdowall, A. (2022). Tunisia’s Islamist who went from kingmaker to opposition. Reuters. Web.

Myrick, R., & Weinstein, J. M. (2021). Making sense of human rights diplomacy: Evidence from a US campaign to free political prisoners. International Organization, 76(2), 379-413.

Pellow, D. N. (2018). Political prisoners and environmental justice. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 29(4), 1-20.

Sofroniou, A. (2019). Human nature: Pacifism, hostilities, wars. Lulu.com.

The spirit of Liu Xiaobo will never die. (2018). Amnesty International. Web.

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