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The Political Terror Scale (PTS) project was started by Michael Stohl and several graduate students at Purdue University in the early 1980s, essentially as a way of empirically testing whether U.S. foreign aid was being sent to countries that violated international human rights standards, thereby being in violation of federal law. The five level coding scheme employed by the PTS was taken directly from the 1980 Freedom House Yearbook and it has been used ever since.
With this U.S. foreign aid focus, the PTS originally only coded 59 countries. However, in 1984 Mark Gibney began directing the project and he has remained in this capacity ever since. The most noteworthy change is the expansion of the PTS to the entire world, and as new states are created the PTS has grown accordingly. However, what is also remarkable is how the PTS has expanded from its original use involving U.S. foreign aid (Stohl et al.) and refugee protection (Gibney) to now include a dizzying array of political phenomena, as reflected in the Bibliography.
Political Terror Scale Levels
1 - Countries under a secure rule of law, people are not imprisoned for their views, and torture is rare or exceptional. Political murders are extremely rare.2 - There is a limited amount of imprisonment for nonviolent political activity. However, few persons are affected, torture and beatings are exceptional. Political murder is rare.3 - There is extensive political imprisonment, or a recent history of such imprisonment. Execution or other political murders and brutality may be common. Unlimited detention, with or without a trial, for political views is accepted.4 - Civil and political rights violations have expanded to large numbers of the population. Murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life. In spite of its generality, on this level terror affects those who interest themselves in politics or ideas.5 - Terror has expanded to the whole population. The leaders of these societies place no limits on the means or thoroughness with which they pursue personal or ideological goals.