State sanctioned torture

Other Names:
Political torture
Government sanctioned torture
Judicial torture

State sanctioned torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him (or from a third person) information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed, or intimidating him or other persons. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions to the extent consistent with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.


Governments are producing progressively more sophisticated methods of torture, including mind-shattering and audio-visual techniques. Torture has become a science, with schools, research facilities and international exchanges of information. While governments universally and collectively condemn torture, more than a third of the world's governments have used or tolerated torture or ill-treatment of political prisoners in the 1980s. Recent incidents and allegations of political torture include psychiatric hospital internment in the USSR with varying levels of so-called 'treatments'; and Operation Demetrius in Ulster, Ireland, conducted by the UK, in which political detainees, according to the European Commission of Human Rights, were subject to five kinds of sensory deprivation and resulting trauma. Amnesty International reports from some countries cite singular instances of political torture, while, under certain regimes, it is so recurrent as to be institutional, with a paraphernalia of schools, instructors of interrogation by torture, and medical doctors acting in complicity. Abuses may also be committed by opposition groups.

A 1993 report found that a former student leader in the revolt at Tiananmen Square was sentenced by the Chinese government to 6 years of prison and consequent torture, which involved being burned with high-voltage cattle prods and being forced to stare motionless at a blank wall for 12-14 hours per day for weeks upon end.

In a 1980-1983 global survey, Amnesty International reports allegation of political torture in the following countries:

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST