Religious Prisoners of Conscience

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.

USCIRF defines Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOCs) as individuals who are imprisoned, detained, under house arrest, or disappeared for their religious beliefs, non-belief, identity, activity and/or advocacy for FoRB or related rights, provided that they have not used or advocated violence. 

Current Religious Prisoners of Conscience

Patriarch Abune Antonios Eritrea

USCIRF Advocate: James W. Carr

Patriarch Abune Antonios was born on July 12, 1927, in Himberti, a town north of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. He was ordained as the third Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tawahedo Church in 2004.

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Raif Badawi Saudi Arabia

USCIRF Advocate: Nadine Maenza

Raif Badawi is a blogger and human rights activist who co-founded the website Free Saudi Liberals in 2008. Badawi and his colleagues intended the website to encourage debate on religious and political issues in Saudi Arabia despite the country's restricted civic space.

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Mubarak Bala Nigeria

USCIRF Advocate: Frederick A. Davie

Mubarak Bala is a self-identified atheist from Kano State in northeast Nigeria. He became well known in 2014 when the media reported that he had been forcibly drugged and committed to a psychiatric unit by his family members after telling them he was atheist.

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Ramzan Bibi Pakistan

USCIRF Advocate: James W. Carr

Ramzan Bibi is a 55-year-old Ahmadi Muslim woman from Cheleki village, Punjab province, Pakistan. She is married to Rana Munir Ahmad and has four sons and two daughters.

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Dennis Christensen Russia

USCIRF Advocate: James W. Carr

Dennis Ole Christensen is a Danish citizen who lives in Oryol, Russia. Before his detention, he worked as a carpenter while living with his wife, Irina Christensen, who is a Russian citizen.

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Gulmira Imin China

USCIRF Advocate: Anurima Bhargava

Gulmira Imin is a Uyghur Muslim and former web administrator for the Uighur-language website Salkin. Ms. Imin was also a government employee in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwest China.

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Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee Iran

USCIRF Advocate: Anurima Bhargava

On September 6, 2014, authorities believed to be the Revolutionary Guards arrested both Iraee and her husband and searched their home without a warrant.

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Shamil Khakimov Tajikistan

USCIRF Advocate: Nury Turkel

Seventy year-old Shamil Khakimov is one of 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Khujand and nearby towns in northern Tajikistan interrogated by the Department of Organized Crime Control in late January and e

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Raymond Koh Malaysia

USCIRF Advocate: James W. Carr

Pastor Raymond Koh (Pastor Koh), is a Christian pastor from Malaysia. Prior to his abduction, he ran an NGO focused on people living with HIV/AIDs, recovering addicts, and single mothers and children.

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Jimmy Lai China

USCIRF Advocate: Tony Perkins

Jimmy Lai escaped communist China to Hong Kong at the age of 12. Despite his UK citizenship, he chose to remain in Hong Kong to advocate against the encroachment of the Chinese communist government on Hong Kong’s freedoms.

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Ivan Matsitsky Russia

In 2016, a St. Petersburg regional department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) initiated a criminal investigation which ultimately determined that illegal entrepreneurship from the local Scientology community generated around 280 million Rubles between 2013-2016.

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Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Iran

USCIRF Advocate: Nadine Maenza

Youcef Nadarkhani was born on April 11, 1977 to Muslim parents in Rasht, Iran. Though not religious as a child, he converted to Christianity at age 19, becoming a member of the Only Jesus Church.

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Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – The Panchen Lama China

USCIRF Advocate: Nadine Maenza

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 14, 1995, to be the 11th Panchen Lama, which is the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism.

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Leah Sharibu Nigeria

USCIRF Advocate: Tony Perkins

On February 19, 2018, the Boko Haram faction ISIS-WA attacked the Government Girls Science and Technical School in Dapchi, Yobe State, Nigeria. ISIS-WA abducted 110 girls, five of whom were reported killed in the abduction.

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Yahaya Sharif-Aminu Nigeria

USCIRF Advocate: Frederick A. Davie

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu is a little-known Islamic gospel musician from Kano State, northern Nigeria. He belongs to the Tijaniyya order, a popular Sufi Islamic order across North and West Africa.

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Deacon Zhang Wen Shi North Korea

USCIRF Advocate: James W. Carr

Deacon Jang Moon Seok, also known by his Chinese name, Zhang Wen Shi, is an ethnically Korean Chinese citizen who lived in Changbai, China, a town on the border between China and North Korea.

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Hu Shigen China

USCIRF Advocate: Tony Perkins

Hu Shigen was born on November 14, 1955, in Jiangxi Province. He received his university education in Beijing and later taught at the Beijing Language Institute. The 1989 Democracy Movement, and the subsequent Tiananmen Square protests, jumpstarted Hu Shigen’s political activism.

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Nguyen Bac Truyen Vietnam

USCIRF Advocate: Anurima Bhargava

Nguyen Bac Truyen is a legal expert who leads the Vietnamese Political & Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, which assists prisoners of conscience and their families.

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Adil Tuniyaz China

USCIRF Advocate: Nury Turkel

Adil Tuniyaz is a well-known Uyghur poet, reporter at the state-run People's Radio, and author of the books Questions for an Apple and Manifesto for Universal Poetry. Tuniyaz and his wife, Nezire Muhammad Salih, were both arrested in December 2017.

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Released Religious Prisoners of Conscience

Dilshat Perhat Ataman China

USCIRF Advocate: Tony Perkins

Dilshat Perhat Ataman is a Uighur Muslim from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of western China. During the late 2000s, he ran the popular Uighur-language website, Diyarim, which focused on social and cultural issues.

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Pastor Andrew Brunson Turkey

USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga

Andrew Brunson, 50, is an American citizen who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. He is a pastor for the Izmir Diriliş (Resurrection) Church, a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation in the city of Izmir.

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Pastor A Dao Vietnam

USCIRF Advocate: James W. Carr

A Dao, resident of Gia Xieng Village, Ro Koi Commune, Sa Thay District, Kontum Province, is a Protestant pastor of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ (MECC).

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Patriarch Thich Quang Do Vietnam

USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga

Most Venerable Thich Quang Do was born on November 27, 1928 in Thai Binh Province. Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) since 2008, Thich Quang Do has been a lifelong advocate for democracy, religious freedom, and human rights.

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Hamid Kamal Mohammad bin Haydara Others

USCIRF Advocate: Johnnie Moore

The armed religious-political movement known as the Houthi sparked a civil war in Yemen when they turned against the government in 2015. They have promoted sectarian divisions and have cracked down on the tiny Yemeni Baha’i community.

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Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and Tran Thi Hong Vietnam

USCIRF Advocate: Jackie Wolcott

Nguyen Cong Chinh is an evangelical pastor originally from the Quang Nam province, and has lived in the Central Highland provinces of Kon Tum and Gia Lai since 1985.  He is a long-time pro-democracy activist and critic of the Vietnamese government’s ban on preaching in the Central Highlands.

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Fariba Kamalabadi - The Baha'i Seven Iran

USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga

Fariba Kamalabadi was born on September 12, 1962, in Tehran, Iran. Ms. Kamalabadi graduated from high school with honors but was barred from attending university due to her Baha’i faith.

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Bagir Kazikhanov Russia

USCIRF Advocate: John Ruskay

Bagir Kazikhanov was born on September 9, 1983 in the Republic of Dagestan, an administrative entity of the Russian Federation.

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Pwint Phyu Latt and Zaw Zaw Latt Burma

USCIRF Advocate: Daniel Mark

Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt are two Muslim interfaith peace advocates who have been imprisoned since 2015.

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Mahvash Sabet - The Baha'i Seven Iran

USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga

Mahvash Sabet was born on February 4, 1953 in Ardestan, Iran. Ms. Sabet moved to Tehran when she was in the fifth grade and eventually received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Ms. Sabet married Siyvash Sabet on May 21, 1973 and has a son and daughter.

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Abdul Shakoor Pakistan

USCIRF Advocate: Johnnie Moore

Abdul Shakoor was born February 2, 1937 in Qadian, India.  He is married and the father of five daughters and two sons.  

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Mohammad Ali Taheri Iran

USCIRF Advocate: Gayle Manchin

On May 4, 2011, Taheri was again arrested and tried under charges of “touching the wrists of female patients,” “blasphemy,” “producing and distributing audio-visual material,” “interfering in medical science,”  “earning illegitimate funds,” and “distribution of audio-visual products and use of ac

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Maryam Naghash Zargaran Iran

USCIRF Advocate: Clifford D. May

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert from Islam and former children's music teacher, was arrested on January 6, 2013.

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Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List

Please visit USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Victims List to learn more about USCIRF’s efforts to highlight victims who are targeted due to their religion or belief.