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Prosecution Vs. Persecution

These two terms often confuse people as they look alike but in reality, mean two completely different things. Prosecution means to initiate legal proceedings against someone, while Persecution, on the other hand, implies infliction of suffering or harm upon a person due to reasons such as religion, race, ethnicity, gender, etc. The article attempts to draw out the difference between these two terms by clarifying their respective meanings.

By: Naman Gujral, Delhi Metropolitan Education.


The word ‘Prosecute’ is most often used to refer to bringing legal action against someone else, and is related to the Latin word for “pursue.” It is often confused with persecuting which means to harass, torment, or punish, especially for one’s beliefs. If you find yourself frequently on the wrong side of the prosecution, you might end up feeling persecuted.

Both words may be traced to similar Latin words; prosecute from prosequi (“to pursue”), and persecute from persequi (“to persecute”), and both appear to have entered the English language at about the same time, near the end of the 15th century. The meaning of persecuting (in its ‘act like a complete jerk’ sense) has been its predominant one since the beginning of the word’s use in English. Prosecute, on the other hand, entered our language with a meaning that, although still current, has been superseded by the legal sense. This meaning is to follow to the end, to press to execution or completion.

What does Prosecution mean?

As mentioned before, Prosecution, in law, refers to a legal procedure. It is defined as the institution and continuance of a criminal activity that involves the process of pursuing formal charges against the defendant to final judgment. Simply put, Prosecution refers to the conducting of a lawsuit or court action. Most often the term ‘Prosecution’ is associated with criminal cases wherein the government or state will file charges against a person accused of committing a crime.

Thus, the legal team representing the government is generally referred to as the Prosecution.

Their ultimate objective is to secure a conviction by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime. However, the term ‘Prosecution’ can also refer to a judicial proceeding brought by one party against another, where the party initiating the action will prosecute the other for a particular wrong committed or violation of a right. Thus, for example, a company may conduct a prosecution against another by initiating legal action to obtain damages.

The act or the process of prosecuting typically involves the presentation of facts and evidence about the case and the final decision.

Therefore, it is best to remember the term ‘Prosecution’ as the process by which legal action against a person is commenced and a conviction is sought. Further, keep in mind that it also refers to the party initiating legal action against another.

What does Persecution mean?

The term ‘Persecution’ is defined as the infliction of suffering or harm upon a person because of his/her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political opinion, or social status. It is an intense form of abuse involving acts that amount to harassment, cruel or inhumane treatment, or torment. Persecution refers to the act of persecuting or the state of being persecuted.

Thus, the act of persecuting refers to a mission or organized plan to segregate and harass a person or group of people based on either one or more of the reasons set out above.

The group of people subjected to such harassment and experiencing the same constitutes the state of being persecuted. Persecution derives from the word persecute, which translated from its Latin origin means to follow with hostility. Therefore, think of Persecution as oppression caused to a person or group of people. An example of this is the Jewish Holocaust wherein the primary goal of the Nazi regime was the persecution and eradication of the Jewish race. Another example of Persecution was seen in the intense harassment and torment caused to minority groups in Rwanda and Somalia.


A. Prosecution:

1. Prosecution is a process in a trial before a court to bring out the truth.

2. For instance, the defence lawyer asks the witness some questions to prove his stand.

B. Persecution:

1. Persecution refers to a systematic elimination of a community by killing its members based on religion, ethnicity.

2. Hitler’s act of Killing Jews based on religion in WWII can be termed as persecution.

What is the difference between Persecution and Prosecution?

• Persecution refers to the act of persecuting, which means inflicting harm or causing oppression or harassment to a person or group of people based on race, religion, or gender. It is illegal and constitutes a violation of human rights.

• Prosecution refers to a legal procedure, which involves the institution and continuance of a legal proceeding by one party against another, intending to pursue a trial and thereafter obtain a conviction against that person. It also refers to the party commencing legal action against another.

Prosecutor can be a legal profession but not persecution, it is a crime

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Tips for Keeping Them Separate

When using these words in a legal sense, or to refer to the oppression of some kind you would do well to distinguish between them, reserving prosecutes for the judicial role, and persecute for the act of tormenting or oppressing. If you are one of those who has trouble distinguishing between these words, we are sorry to say that your problem is not yet common enough to have warranted any well-known mnemonics. If there’s nothing on television tonight, maybe this is an opportunity to spend a fun and productive three hours coming up with your ways of remembering (perhaps … ‘One feel persecuted, since the Es in feel match the initial E in persecute’; ‘One generally wants a pro to be the prosecutor’). Ok, maybe three hours won’t be necessary… give yourself five minutes and you should be able to come up with some that are better than those.


Persecution and prosecution are two words that look alike and create some confusion, but, if you look at their meanings, you can observe some differences between them. Indeed, many of us can distinguish the terms ‘Persecution’ and ‘Prosecution’ with ease. However, many still confuse the usage of the terms perhaps largely owing to their similarity in sound. This is an honest mistake, one that can be rectified by simply understanding the definitions of both terms.





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