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.
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.
USCIRF Advocate: 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 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.
Dennis Christensen (Russia)
USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga
On May 25, 2017, members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) disrupted a Jehovah’s Witness prayer service. Detaining some 70-80 people within the building for several hours, the authorities would ultimately hold about 20 persons overnight before arresting Dennis Christensen and 15 Russian citizens. Read more about him here.
Ivan Matsitsky (Russia)
USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga
On June 6, 2017, Russian authorities from the FSB and SWAT police raided the St. Petersburg Church of Scientology Religious Group as well as the home of Ivan Matsitsky. Authorities charged Matsitsky with illegal entrepreneurship from the 2016 investigation (Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Russia), incitement of hatred or enmity (Article 282 of the Criminal Code of Russia), and organizing an extremist conspiracy (Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia). Read more here.
Hu Shigen (China)
USCIRF Advocate: Gary Bauer
On July 10, 2015, authorities disappeared Hu Shigen as part of a larger crackdown on rights lawyers and activists. His family was not made aware of his location or status until January 8, 2016 when they received an arrest notice stating that authorities suspected Hu of “subversion of state power.” Read more here.
Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee (Iran)
USCIRF Advocate: Gayle Manchin
Ms. Iraee is an author and life-long campaigner for human rights and specifically women’s rights. On September 6, 2014, authorities believed to be Revolutionary Guards arrested both Ms. Iraee and her husband, Arash Sadehi. She was tried in May 2015 and charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda.” Read more about her here.
Mohammad Ali Taheri (Iran)
USCIRF Advocate: Gayle Manchin
Mr. Taheri, born in 1956, is a cognitive researcher and founder of a group called Circle of Mysticism. On May 4, 2011, Taheri was 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 academic titles.” Read more about him here.
Hamid Kamal Mohammad bin Haydara (Yemen)
USCIRF Advocate: Andy Khawaja
On December 3, 2013, authorities linked to the Houthi-run National Security Bureau arrested Hamad bin Haydara, a Yemeni Baha’i, while he was at work. On December 17, the authorities raided his home, confiscating documents and laptops. They detained him without charges and Haydara virtually disappeared until September 2, 2014, when his wife, Ilham Zara’i, was finally permitted to visit him. Read more about Hamed bin Haydara here.
On October 5, 2018, the Venerable Thich Quang Do was expelled from Thanh Minh Zen Monastery. After a brief visit to his home province of Thai Binh, he returned to Ho Chi Minh City and currently resides at Tu Hieu Pagoda, where Vietnamese authorities continue to regularly surveil him.
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. In October 2003, authorities accused Thich Quang Do of “possessing state secrets” and confined him to Thanh Minh Zen Monastery where he has been under constant surveillance and effective house arrest ever since.
USCIRF Advocate: Johnnie Moore
Abdul Shakoor was the manager of an optician’s store and bookshop in Punjab province, Pakistan. He was arrested in December 2015 for selling an Ahmadiyya commentary on the Qur’an, among other publications. In January 2016, he was given an 8- year prison sentence: five-years for violating the Anti-Terrorism Act for “printing, publishing, or disseminating any material to incite hatred,” and three-years for violating the Pakistani Penal Code, under a section that criminalizes acts and speech that insult a religion or religious beliefs or defile the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, a place of worship, or religious symbols.
Pastor Chinh was released from prison on July 28, 2017, almost six years before the end of his sentence. The Vietnamese government released him on the condition that he immediately leave the country in exile. He and his family now reside in the United States.
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.
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.
Maryam was released from prison on August 1, 2017, having served more than her full four year sentence. Immediately before her release, she was unexpectedly taken to a courtroom, where the prison’s medical staff accused her of insulting them, although it is unclear whether any new charges were filed against her. After her release, she reported that she had been given unnecessary anti-psychotic medication in prison and that the government also banned her from leaving Iran for six months.
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.
Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt were released on May 24, 2017. They were two of 259 prisoners released in a presidential amnesty to mark the beginning of the Union Peace Conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference.
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.