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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.


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)
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: 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: Tenzin Dorjee

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: Nadine Maenza
Youcef Nadarkhani was born April 11, 1977, to Muslim parents in Rasht, Iran. A member of the evangelical Church of Iran and pastor of a 400-member house church, he was first detained in 2006 on charges of "apostasy" and "evangelism." In November 2010, Pastor Nadarkhani was given the verdict of execution by hanging for charges of apostasy. Read more 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.



Thich Quang Do (Vietnam)
USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga 

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.



Abdul Shakoor (Pakistan)
USCIRF Advocate: Johnnie Moore
Abdul Shakoor was released on March 18, 2019.

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. 

USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga
Pastor Brunson was released on October 12, 2018.
Andrew Brunson, 49, is an American citizen who has lived in Turkey with his wife, Norine, for 23 years. He is a pastor for the Izmir Diriliş (Resurrection) Church, a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation in the city of Izmir. A court document released at a December 9, 2016 hearing indicated that Pastor Brunson had been charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The case against Pastor Brunson seems to be based on secret evidence and a secret witness. He has been incarcerated since October 2016 without due process and inadequate physical and psychological support. Read more about him here.

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.

USCIRF Advocate: Kristina Arriaga
Fariba Kamalabadi was released in November 2017. Ms. Kamalabadi has been released after serving her full 10-year sentence under false charges.
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.
 Bagir Kazikhanov was reportedly released in October 2017.

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: Kristina Arriaga
Mavash Sabet was released in September 2017. Ms Sabet has been released after serving her 10-year sentence under false charges. 
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.

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.