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EU nationals held as political prisoners in third countries [What Europe does for you]

With European elections coming up in May 2019, you probably want to know how the European Union impacts your daily life, before you think about voting. In the latest in a series of posts on what Europe does for you, your family, your business and your wellbeing, we look at what Europe does for EU nationals held as political prisoners in third countries.


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EU citizens are sometimes imprisoned without due process or sentenced after a politically motivated trial in non-EU countries that do not uphold the rule of law or human rights standards. These include journalists reporting from difficult situations, human rights defenders, and people visiting for personal reasons.

Arrested prisoner is holding bars in prison cell.

© vchalup / Fotolia

The EU is committed to promoting human rights and freedoms all over the world and has robust mechanisms in place to protect human rights defenders. It also aims to protect its citizens abroad as far as possible. EU diplomacy, coupled with individual EU countries’ efforts, can really make a difference. The EU monitors situations closely and often puts pressure on governments, either confidentially or publicly, to find a solution. Its diplomatic service sometimes issues statements calling for a fair trial or for the presumption of innocence to be upheld in line with international human rights norms.

The European Parliament also champions the causes of political prisoners with EU citizenship, highlighting their cases in its urgency resolutions and addressing their ordeals during MEP delegations’ visits to the countries concerned. Groups of EU parliamentarians can, meanwhile, issue statements or address letters to the national authorities in question. Finally, Parliament does its best to make sure that these people and their struggles are not forgotten. For instance, the Swedish-Eritrean citizen Dawit Isaak, a journalist detained in Eritrea since 2001, has twice been nominated – in 2009 and 2017 – as one of the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize.

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