Russia’s Unconscionable Attack on the Conscience Rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Oryol Court, 2/6/19. Image courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Oryol Court, 2/6/19. Image courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Two days ago, Dennis Christensen, a Danish Jehovah’s Witness, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Russian Court for the “crime” of peacefully and faithfully living out his beliefs. This outrageous conviction of an innocent man is the most egregious recent example of Russia’s aggressive attacks against the internationally protected right of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been targeted by the Russian government and their members have been branded as “extremists” simply for practicing their faith.

Lantos Foundation President, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, issued the following statement:

“We call upon the Court of Appeals in Russia to overturn this disgraceful conviction and to release Dennis Christensen immediately. This entire prosecution was a travesty of justice from start to finish. Jehovah’s Witnesses are known the world over to be a peaceful, generous, and law-abiding community of believers and their persecution by the Russian state is outrageous. Russia must respect international law and protect the religious freedom rights of all its residents.”

Lantos Foundation Statement on Appointment of Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism

The Lantos Foundation applauds the appointment of Elan Carr as the new Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism.  After nearly two years of calls to fill this vital role from our foundation and others deeply connected to the Jewish community, we are hopeful that Mr. Carr’s appointment signals that the United States will once again actively engage in combating this evil bigotry and promote its critical importance as a key priority of our foreign policy. Political extremists from both the left and right have been mainstreaming anti-Semitism around the world, and it is beyond time for a strong voice of condemnation from the United States.

Congressman Tom Lantos, the only survivor of the Holocaust ever to serve in Congress, played the key role in establishing the post of Special Envoy because he understood from personal experience how essential it is for the United States to lead on this issue. Mr. Carr brings not only his impressive professional background, but also his deeply felt personal experience with anti-Semitism to bear in this important fight. The Lantos Foundation congratulates Mr. Carr on his appointment and we stand ready to offer our assistance as he fulfills this important mission.  

RealClear World : The Best Power Play Is to Take a Stand for Human Rights by Katrina Lantos Swett

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“A dangerous shift is taking place in American politics, threatening decades of consensus and a history that stretches back to our Founding Fathers. It is a shift away from a foreign policy that prioritizes human rights and fundamental freedoms, and toward a cold, calculating politics of power and realpolitik. “

Statement from Lantos Foundation President on the Death of Lyudmila Alexeyeva

Dr. Lantos Swett meets with Lyudmila in Russia in 2010.

Dr. Lantos Swett meets with Lyudmila in Russia in 2010.

The Lantos Foundation joins with millions of other human rights activists in mourning the passing of one of the great women of the movement, Lyudmila Alexeyeva.

I had the privilege of knowing Lyudmila personally and we worked together on the cause of democracy and human rights in Russia - a fight to which she lent her considerable intellect, passion, and credibility for well over half a century.

Lyudmila was among the small circle of founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group - a brave band that had the audacious and dangerous idea that they would hold the Soviet Union accountable for the human rights pledges it had made under the Helsinki accords.

Under threat of imprisonment, Lyudmila had to leave the Soviet Union in the late 70’s. She returned to her beloved Russia in the 1990’s to resume her work on behalf of worker’s rights, human rights, and democracy. In her 80’s while defending the right of peaceful assembly, she was arrested and assaulted - something few people her age would willingly endure, but Lyudmila was no ordinary octogenarian.

I was last with her several years ago in her memory filled apartment in Moscow. Till the end, Lyudmila was idealistic, optimistic, passionate, and principled.

This graceful woman will continue to inspire new generations of human rights leaders as she has me.

- Katrina Lantos Swett, Lantos Foundation President

Time’s Person of the Year: ‘Guardians’ of the truth

The Lantos Foundation commends Time Magazine for recognizing The Guardians as its 2018 Person of the Year. Journalists are often the ones who are very publicly on the front lines of exposing human rights abuses - they tell the truth and often put their own lives in danger by doing so. In many closed societies, brave journalists are the only ones able to document the realities that their neighbors and fellow countrymen face every day. We salute the bravery and moral conviction of  the 2018 Guardians, and all the guardians around the world. They are among those the late Congressman Tom Lantos was speaking of when he said, “The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest”.

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Remarks : Joshua Wong, 2018 Lantos Human Rights Prize Recipient

Agnes Chow and Nathan Law accept the 2018 Lantos Human Rights Prize on behalf of Joshua Wong.

Agnes Chow and Nathan Law accept the 2018 Lantos Human Rights Prize on behalf of Joshua Wong.

Thomas Lantos founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983 as a manifestation of his own character – being a beacon of hope, justice, and human decency in the shroud of darkness. Since 2009, the Lantos Human Rights Prize has been awarded to tireless fighters around the world trying to uphold human rights as a priority, including the Dalai Lama and Professor Elie Wiesel.

It is an incredible honour to be placed next to these iconic figures who have fought all their lives for justice, and have sacrificed so much for their causes. I have fought for a relatively shorter period of time, having lived on this earth for only 22 years, and I have looked up to many of them for inspiration since I started my path in social activism seven years ago. Unfortunately, I will not be able to come to Washington in person to receive the award, since my passport is still held by the Court while I am on bail pending an appeal for yet another case of political prosecution initiated by the government in connection to the Umbrella Movement in 2014. In the time being, I’ve lost my freedom of travel overseas.

I take this opportunity to urge the international community not to forget about Hong Kong, despite its size. In the past two years alone, democratically-elected legislators, including Nathan, have been removed from office. Others, including Agnes Chow from our youth political group, have been barred from appearing on the ballot because of their political positions which Beijing deems unacceptable. Political prosecutions against protesters have become the new norm, with Edward Leung serving a six-year prison term at this very moment.

Historically, Hong Kong has been an important place bridging China and the world. Our freedoms, stability, and the rule of law have been indispensable for our success. But now, Hong Kong is standing on the front line against Chinese imperialism in the 21st century. From undermining liberal institutions such as press freedom to meddling in free elections, there’s no doubt that Beijing is actively developing its sharp power.

China’s goal is to create a new international order governed not by shared values of human rights, but by its force of power. We see this in Xinjiang. We see this in Tibet. We see this in Macau. We see this in Taiwan. We see this in the South China Sea. Even the United States is constantly under threat, which makes it all the more important to study Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong may be a small place, but it’s unique because of its people. The iconic images of skyscrapers in this bustling metropolis are world famous, but it’s the Hong Kongers fighting on the streets who truly make it great. The only path forward is self-determination, which is a fundamental human right to which all peoples in the world are entitled – it is only fair that the people have a say in their own collective future, which is what democracy is all about.

I hope that Capitol Hill would reconsider its stance on its export control policy for dual-use technology, and on Hong Kong as a separate customs area from China as suggested by the USCC report, bearing in mind the evident Chinese agenda which has already been shown in its Belt and Road Initiative. I also take this opportunity to implore you to co-sponsor the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act Bill in the coming congressional year in solidarity with those who have been prisoned due to selective, political prosecutions initiated by the Hong Kong government, such as myself and my colleagues in Demosisto.

Thank you once again for your support of the Hong Kong people.