make a martyr of (one)

make a martyr of (one)

To make someone on the opposing side of an issue suffer for their position, only for that suffering to cause other people to sympathize with the victim and join his or her cause. The British government's biggest mistake in dealing with the Irish revolutionaries was to execute the leaders of the 1916 uprising. By making martyrs of them, the government unified the Irish people in a position of revolt.
See also: make, martyr, of