Every mainstream publication covered Israel’s Israeli decision to release Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences for violent crimes. But The Independent distinguished itself as the only publication to refer to them as “political prisoners” in its headline (which has since been changed.)
One reader complained to the publication about the improper usage of the term. She received the following response from Will Gore, the paper’s Deputy Managing Editor and shared it with HonestReporting:
While I do not dispute what you say about the seriousness of the crimes committed by those due to be released, I do not agree with you that the phrase ‘political prisoners’ is inaccurate. There is no doubt that the actions of a great many of the individuals in question, however appalling, were motivated by what can be referred to as political aims. You will be aware that there is no set definition of ‘political prisoner’ and that, for instance, the definition used by Amnesty International includes “any prisoner whose case has a significant political element: whether the motivation of the prisoner’s acts, the act in themselves, or the motivation of the authorities”. Even putting the motivation of the crimes to one side, very evidently the prisoners are currently a bargaining chip in a wider political game, their release a matter of politics, not simply of legal process.
We set out clearly in the article why the prisoner issue is so controversial and we listed the crimes committed by some of those who are to be set free. I do not believe our coverage of this issue has been misleading, either in its words or the accompanying pictures.
The term “political prisoner” is widely understood to describe a person imprisoned for beliefs, not actions. If someone kills an innocent civilian in the name of a political cause – whether that be animal rights, abortion rights, or Palestinian independence – that person would be jailed because of the act of murder, not the political cause he supports. The distinction is important. Referring to a murder as a political prisoner grants legitimacy to the crime. It is a disservice to genuine political prisoners and to the victims of the violent criminals.
Gore’s reference to a “wider political game” is even more bewildering. According to this view, the designation of a political prisoner is not related to either the crime or its motivation. Instead, it is accorded if a third party believes it can gain politically by demanding the prisoners release.
If Independent editors refuse to refer to any Palestinian as a terrorist, is it really a surprise that they will try to defend their reference to a murderer as a political prisoner? The Independent continues to give the Palestinians a free pass for their violent behavior. Even if Palestinians kill, it’s their motivation that defines them, not their actions.
So it seems the Independent might have its own political motivations.