I read this in a news about the passing away of a prominent political figure. One of the critics mentioned that during the time when he was in power he used to "detain without trial" his political oppositions to silence them.

In the news they used a single word for that phrase, but I can't remember it.

What is a word for "detaining without trial"?

I've tried to search for "detain without trial", "imprisonment without proper trial", "detaining without hearing", etc (without the quotes), but all I could find were internment, which is more about concentration camp, or remand, which is about the pre-trial detention. (I hope by putting what I searched for, future people who search for the same thing will find this page with the answer!)

The word I'm looking for seems to mean that the people never went through any trial at all, and so the prominent political figure _____ the political oppositions.

  • 2
    It's usually called Disappearing. It's a causative transitive usage of disappear, meaning 'cause to disappear'. The term got popular as a borrowing/translation of the Spanish phrase los desaparecidos 'the disappeared (ones)', referring to the thousands of civilians kidnapped and killed in secret by Latin American dictatorships in the last half of the 20th century. Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:31
  • 2
    Given that the Wikipedia page on the subject refers to strictly as "detention without trial", I am going to say there is no shorter phrase in common use. Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:35
  • Disappearing doesn't seem like it. I feel that it's a political term. I remembered googling for the definition and it has a definition, so it should be a word. I can't find them in the history on my local computer, though, I must have done it in other browser.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:46
  • Gitmo (GTMO) or Guantanamo might get the point across. Coin a verb: The prominent political figure gitmoed the opposition leader. (And +1 for disappearing.)
    – Drew
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:49
  • 1
    I think “detained without trial” is borderline redundant and that just “detained” would imply that no trial has occurred (detained pending trial) or even that no charges have been made (detained pending indictment). “Detained indefinitely” or “detained for years” would make it clearer, but “without trial” is not required and just “detained” by itself (without “indefinitely” or “for years”) is sufficient in this context, imo.
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 16:08

10 Answers 10


The word I would use is internment (as identified in the question), which Wikipedia describes as

the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial

though I would not see it as necessarily going as far as the extremely negative associations of concentration camps from World War II.

For individuals rather than groups, I might use detention, which I would almost never use for being held before a trial (instead using remand) or after a trial (instead using prison).

  • +1 and accepted. Not really what in my mind as I remember it (and I can't find the verb form), but I think this matches my description quite well. Perhaps some mismatch is due to my incorrect memory.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 7:16
  • The verb is intern (and so interning and interned) and is transitive - though there is the risk that somebody might now read it as unpaid training.
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 18:58

Immure is a possibility:


Enclose or confine (someone) against their will:

The prominent political figure immured his political opponents.

  • 3
    How does this mean without trial? Most imprisonment is against the will of the imprisoned.
    – Alex W
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 18:50
  • Interestingly, after consulting freedictionary, Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary, OED, Dictionary.com, Collins, McMillan, Longman DCE and Merriam Webster, none of the above named resources has mentioned anything relating to "against one's will". The only source that has mentioned this is oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/immure And this website suggests us to refer to Oxford advanced learner (which did not record this denotation) Please takes note of this when using this verb to denote "against one's will"
    – Alan
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 22:41
  • OED is rarely wrong, but I used the less exhaustive ODO. The corpus can speak for itself. Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 22:02

Impound includes imprisonment, and is not normally associated with the due process normally offered to people:


1.0 Seize and take legal custody of (something, especially a vehicle, goods, or documents) because of an infringement of a law:

2.0 Shut up (domestic animals) in a pound or enclosure:

2.1 Lock up (someone):

In situations where political prisoners are taken and help without due process, it is normally rationalized in a tyrannical legal framework:

The prominent political figure impounded his political opposition.

  • It seems that this carries the meaning of "infringement of a law", while in my description, it is in the borderline of whether it's a violation of the law, because the political figure might just looking for arbitrary reasons to confine the oppositions. +1 for the connotation that you mentioned, though.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 7:18
  • 1
    Agreed, @justhalf. I like your question. We will probably have a hard time finding anything better than internment, which generally suspends the legal consideration of habeas corpus under the extenuating conditions of war. Under the conditions you describe, tyrants still maintain a pretext of legal consideration--even if it is transparently contrived.
    – ScotM
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 15:41

Imprisonment/imprison (v.)

According to Jowitt’s Dictionary of English Law,

imprisonment means:

The restraint of a person's liberty under the custody of another. It extends in law to confinement not only in a gaol but in a house, or stocks, or to holding a man in the street, etc.; for in all these cases the person so restrained is said to be a prisoner, so long as he has not his liberty freely to go about his business as at other times (Co.Litt. 253). Imprisonment may be lawful or unlawful.

"Detain without trial" must be unlawful, and, therefore, imprisonment would be appropriate in this context. More importantly, in theory, Courts are the only authority who have the lawful authority to imprison a person. As in your context, the person who imprisoned the opposition is a politician, it is therefore clear that the use of "imprisonment" here must convey a sense of "unlawfulness".

However, I would suggest that, for the sake of accuracy, you should use Unlawful/political imprisonment. False imprisonment is another term which has similar meaning, but you should be cautious when using this word, as legally it confers some special meaning.

  • 2
    "Detain without trial" is only unlawful when the laws are not sufficiently bent. "Internment" and "suspension of habeas corpus" has been done several times in both US and UK history.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 16:47
  • Sorry for the confusion. I was intended to refer merely to the situation described in the question. However, I am not sure what precisely do you mean by saying "the laws are not sufficiently bent."
    – Alan
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 16:50
  • But the OP does not indicate that whatever was done was technically illegal (in whatever country where it was done).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 16:53
  • "he used to "detain without trial" his political oppositions to silence them." "imprisonment without proper trial" "people never went through any trial at all" The above quotations from the OP connote - Improper motive, procedural unfairness, indefinite detention without trial The necessary inference is that they all point to the direction of unlawfulness, and, as you said somewhere else, it is very likely that they amount to habeas corpus.
    – Alan
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 17:07
  • 2
    The OP appears to be referring to some country other than the US or the UK, and there are many countries in the world that lack the basic legal protections we take for granted.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 17:28



Imprison or confine:


If you are looking for a legal phrase to refer to, then you might refer to the writ of Habeas corpus or in your case someone violating the writ of Habeas corpus -- here is a small excerpt from what it states:

"...demands that a prisoner be taken before the court, and that the custodian present proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether the custodian has lawful authority to detain the prisoner"

Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas corpus during the Civil War.



  • The act of confining or the state of being confined.

to confine:

  • To shut or keep in, especially to imprison. (AHD)

The Free Disctionary

  • 1
    Without a trial? Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:33
  • I think this lacks the "without trial" part, but otherwise it's going to the same direction.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:48
  • I don't think a confinement is strictly linked to a trial. A prison is just one of the places were can be confined.
    – user66974
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:56

kidnap - Abduct (someone) and hold them captive, albeit typically to obtain a ransom.

See also:

abduct - Take (someone) away illegally by force or deception

  • Kidnap and abduct doesn't seem like it, they are detained in the prison, so I don't think that qualifies as kidnap or abduct. Also it lacks the political nuance. =)
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 15:50
  • Ok - on trying to find another useful synonym I found this. Does it cover what you want?
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 17:11

Perhaps "custody sans trial" will work.


INTERNMENT: This is a political word for detaining a person without trial. "Internment" was commonly used for IRA members who were detained without trial.

  • 5
    This is a good word but was already suggested 2 years ago above Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:46

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