#FreeToBeHome: Giving Voice in Support of Political Prisoners

An estimated 10 million people are in prison around the world at any time with nearly a third of them awaiting a trial. In many of those cases, they may never see one, or if they do, the trials and verdicts are politically-biased, not based on evidence or fair execution of the law. 

Under international law no one can be detained without a legitimate reason, and those accused of a crime have the right to a fair trial. That is what is expected in the United States and that is what is deserved anywhere. This is not the reality however, as an unknown number of individuals are sitting in jail cells on trumped-up, politically-motivated charges for speaking out against corruption and abuse, in disagreement to the ruling parties, or in some cases under suspicion for association with opposition groups. Their sentences and charges are meant to squash dissension and are a signal to other dissidents: this could be you.

Prisoners of conscience do not serve their sentences alone. Their absence is felt profoundly by family and friends, who too must serve out these punishments. They are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and entire communities. In cases when whereabouts are known, they are the first to visit their loved ones, holding on to any opportunity to continue building memories together. In other cases, their burden is hope -- that their loved one will return but never knowing for sure. They are the ones helping keep a spotlight on their loved one and his or her cause.

"It doesn’t matter how hard it is, he’s my beloved person, my husband, my friend, my confidant and the father of [our] daughter, I will always be next to him."  - Vafa Mammadova reflecting on her husband Ilgar Mammadov, arrested in February 2013 for “civil disturbance” in Azerbaijan and sentenced in March 2014 to 7 years in jail.

This week, we launched the #FreeToBeHome campaign. Each day we will profile the families of individual prisoners around the world who are separated from their relatives and loved ones, a small representation of a global problem.  We call on the governments holding them, and others like them, for their release.

On Human Rights Day, the U.S. Department of State Launched the #FreetoBeHome Political Prisoners Campaign. [State Department photo]

We urge you to share these families’ stories on your social media networks to give voice to them. Let them know they are not forgotten. Let’s signal to their captors that free speech and expression are not punishable offenses, and we won’t stand for the silencing of innocent voices. Let’s make sure their stories and those of others are heard, until all those unjustly imprisoned are #FREETOBEHOME. They could be us.  

About the Author: Tom Malinowski serves as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:



Raymond B.
United States
December 15, 2016
I don't see any mention here of Chelsea Manning. The US is in no position to point the finger at other nations.
Police remove the handcuffs from political prisoners arriving for their hearing at Gambia's supreme court in Banjul, on December 5, 2016. [AP photo]
Posted by Tom Malinowski
December 13, 2016


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