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USCIRF's Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project

USCIRF's Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project highlights individuals imprisoned for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, as well as the dedicated advocacy of USCIRF Commissioners working for their release. Click the below photos for more information on the prisoners, and the Commissioners' efforts on their behalfs.

“Public inattention can often lead to more persecution, not freedom.” - Commissioner Thomas J. Reese

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Launch event of USCIRF's Prisoners of Conscience Project
 

USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

On May 27, 2007, the Eritrean government replaced Patriarch Antonios with Bishop Dioscoros of Mendefera, forcefully removed the Patriarch from his home, and placed him under house arrest at an undisclosed location. Patriarch Antonios, who is 89 years old, continues to be held incommunicado and reportedly is being denied medical care despite suffering from severe diabetes.  Read more about him here.

Raif Badawi (Saudi Arabia)
USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner Clifford D. May

Raif Badawi is a blogger, activist, and the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, which encourages debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia. In 2012, he was charged with "setting up a website that undermines general security," "ridiculing Islamic religious figures," and "going beyond the realm of obedience." He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in addition to a large fine.  He has receievd  50 lashes already.  Read more about him here.

USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner Jackie Wolcott

In 2011, Pastor Chinh was imprisoned on false charges of undermining national solidarity. Prison authorities reportedly have physically and verbally abused him, and he spent approximately one month in solitary confinement. His health is rapidly declining: he suffers from high blood pressure, acute nasal sinusitis, arthritis, and stomach inflammation and is denied treatment or access to medication. While the Vietnamese government has unjustly imprisoned Pastor Chinh, they also harass his wife, Mrs. Tran Thi Hong, monitoring her closely, sealing up her house, and preventing her from meeting with her husband or procuring medicine for her sick daughter.  Read more about them here.

USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born on April 25, 1989, in Lhari County, Tibet. After the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose Gedhun on May 15, 1995, to be the 11th Panchen Lama, which is the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism.  Three days after his selection as Panchen Lama, Chinese government authorities kidnapped then six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family.  Read more about him here.

Gulmira Imin (China)
USCIRF Advocate: Vice Chair Sandra Jolley

Gulmira Imin is a Uighur Muslim and former web administrator for the Uighur-language website Salkin. On July 14, 2009, Ms. Imin was arrested in Aksu after authorities alleged she had organized the protests, posted an announcement for them on Salkin, and leaked state secrets by phone to her husband in Norway.  On April 1, 2010, the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Ms. Imin to life in prison under Articles 103, 111, and 296 of China’s Criminal Law on charges of “splittism, leaking state secrets, and organizing an illegal demonstration.”  Read more about her here.

USCIRF Advocate: Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz

Ms. Kamalabadi is one of the seven Baha’i leaders known as “Yaran” or “Friends,” who tended to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i community in the absence of formally elected Baha’i leadership due to restrictions by the Iranian government. The other six members are Mahvash Sabet, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm.  The Seven were sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest of any current prisoner of conscience in Iran.  Read more about her here.

Russia
USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner John Ruskay

Mr. Kazikhanov organized regular Islamic study sessions in rented flats between 2012 and 2014. During these sessions, he and his fellow Muslims studied the works of the Turkish Islamic revivalist theologian Said Nursi.  Mr. Kazikhanov was arrested in the city of Ulyanovsk on April 9, 2014, after participating in one of these study sessions, which authorities deemed to be the “organization of extremist activity” under the Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1.  He was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison.  Read more about him here.

USCIRF Advocate: Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz

Ms. Sabet began her career as a teacher and also worked as a principal at several schools.  Like thousands of other Iranian Baha’i educators after the Islamic Revolution, she was fired from her job and barred from working in public education. She then became director at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, a university established by the Baha’i community in 1987 to meet the educational needs of young people.  Ms. Sabet was one of the seven Baha’i leaders who were part of the ad hoc group known as “Yaran” or “Friends.”  In 2010, the seven were tried and convicted of charges of “espionage” and “spreading propaganda against the regime.” They each were sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest of any current prisoner of conscience in Iran.  Read more about her here.

USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner Clifford D. May

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert from Islam and former children's music teacher, was arrested on January 6, 2013. On March 9, 2013, Judge Mohammad Moghisseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Courts sentenced her to four years in prison for “propagating against the Islamic regime and collusion intended to harm national security” in connection with her work at an orphanage.  Read more about her here.

USCIRF Advocate: Chairman Daniel Mark
Released in presidential amnesty on May 24, 2017.

Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt are two Muslim interfaith peace advocates who were imprisoned in 2015. The two participated in an interfaith peace trip in June 2013 to the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), during which they delivered a Christian cross and a statue of Buddha as signs of peace.  Read more about them here.