The Lantos Foundation’s 2019 #SolidaritySabbath focused on Religious Prisoners of Conscience. Every day in May, the Lantos Foundation profiled a different prisoner languishing because of their religious beliefs or personal convictions. PoCs came from a range of nations, religious beliefs, and backgrounds. We shine the light on these prisoners to honor their sacrifice, to make sure their stories don’t go untold, and to pressure repressive governments into embracing religious tolerance and freeing those unjustly held.
5/30/19 : Since 1999, the Chinese government has been engaged in a brutal campaign of persecution against the Falun Gong community. The effort to wipe out this peaceful spiritual practice has been likened to genocide by numerous international observers. Perhaps millions of practitioners have been detained in so-called re-education camps where they have been subjected to forced labor and torture. Further, it is believed that thousands of Falun Gong have been killed in order to illegally harvest their organs for China's lucrative transplant tourism. In December 2017, the Falun Gong crackdown resulted in the arrest of 37 practitioners with Fen Junling, Huang Junjuan, and Jin Zhi sentenced to prison terms of 3-10 years for simply practicing their faith.
5/29/19 : In 2017, Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov of the Sunmin Sunbogym Protestant Church in northwest Tajikistan was arrested and imprisoned after being charged with “singing extremist songs in church and inciting religious hatred”. In Tajikistan, religious literature, even that of registered churches, must be approved by the state. Church communities are often targeted on account of to their church properties and affiliated enterprises (hospitals, schools, etc.) over which the government wants to gain control.
5/28/19 : Since the majority Christian country of South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, the Christians in the Northern country of Sudan have been regularly arrested, harassed, flogged, and detained for violations of Sharia Law. In 2018, arrests increased for offenses ranging from wearing “immoral dress” directed at women who dared to wear pants to Christian services, to simply interacting with Muslims. Though long-term imprisonments are rare, harassment has continued, even after the ouster of the Sudanese dictator al-Bashir.
5/27/19 : Mohammad Ali Taheri founded a spiritual movement that has been targeted by Iranian authorities. In 2010 he was arrested on charges of "acting against national security" and was held in solitary confinement for 67 days. In 2011, he was arrested again and has been in prison since that time. Ali Taheri was sentenced to five years in prison for blasphemy, 74 lashes for touching the wrists of female patients, and 900 million Toman for "interfering in medical science" among other charges.
5/26/19 : Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was arrested in 2014 after blogging critically about the caste system (justifying the slavery of people descended from craftsmen) in Mauritania. His writings were deemed an affront to the Prophet Mohammed and he was charged with apostasy. Initially sentenced to death in 2015, his sentence was reduced to two years in prison. Mkhaitir remains in prison in an unknown location today.
5/25/19 : Patriarch Thich Quang Do is the head of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and is currently held under house arrest at Thanh Minh Zen Monastery. Vietnamese officials have monitored, harassed, and detained the now 90-year-old Patriarch for years based on his religious practice, as well as his continued advocacy for religious freedom and human rights.
5/24/19 : According to JW.org, as of May, 2019, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia being prosecuted for their faith was 197. Vladimir Atryakhin, Yury, Belosludtsev, Irina Buglak, Sergei Sergeev, Evgeny Spirin, and Aleksandr Shevchuk are 6 new victims on the list, simply for practicing their chosen faith. There is a growing crisis in Russia for Jehovah’s Witnesses as the Putin government has intensified arrests, imprisonment, prosecutions, and based on recent reports, even torture for practitioners. We reject Russia’s claims that Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an extremist organization, and call on all faiths to denounce this blatant discrimination.
5/23/19 : In 2013, Hamid Kamal Mohammad bin Haydara, a member of the Baha’i Faith Community in Yemen, was arrested by authorities linked to the Houthi-run National Security Bureau. He was held for 2 years before he was charged, in part, with attempting to convert Muslims to the Baha’i Faith. He was sentenced to death in 2018.
5/22/19 : Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim born Christian convert, has been a frequent target of officials over the last 13 years. He has been arrested and charged with “apostasy” and “evangelism” multiple times, once resulting in a death sentence that was later overturned under tremendous international pressure. In 2016, he was again detained and charged with “acting against national security” and after an extensive court battle was jailed in the notorious Evin prison.
5/21/19 : Mo Xiufeng served as a Christian church leader in Zhejiang Province, China. In 2017, Mo was arrested and interrogated along with 11 other members of the Church. Police subjected her to sleep deprivation and other forms of torture in an effort to force her to relinquish her beliefs. She was questioned about the identities of other Church members and the location of Church assets. Charged with “organizing and using a “Xie Jiao” ("evil cult") organization to undermine law enforcement, she was sentenced to nine years in prison.
5/20/19 : Iranian Political activist Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was imprisoned for charges related to an unpublished story she wrote criticizing the practice of stoning in Iran. A fictional character in her story burns the Qur’an in an emotionally charged moment. The story was discovered when authorities ransacked her home without a search warrant. During interrogation, she was pressured to confess guilt under threat of execution and was questioned while listening to her husband being tortured in a nearby room. In 2015, she was charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. On April 8, 2019, Iraee was released from prison after posting bail. Despite her release, she faces additional charges for her political activism while in prison.
5/19/19 : Uighur Muslim Gulmira Imin participated in a demonstration protesting the deaths of Uighur migrant workers in Guangdong Province in 2009. Initially peaceful, under provocation some protestors turned violent. Ms. Imin did not engage in violence but nonetheless was arrested after authorities claimed she had organized the "illegal demonstration". She was sentenced to life in prison. She alleges she was tortured and forced to sign documents while in detention and was not allowed to meet with her lawyer until the trial.
5/18/19 : his past April, 3 US citizens, known only as Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph, were detained by police in Laos as they volunteered to visit villages in the Louang Namtha province to distribute religious material. Authorities of Laos consider Christianity to be a "foreign religion". Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph remain in detention.
5/17/19 : Ebrahim Firouzi has been in and out of Iranian prisons since 2011 as a result of his active Christian faith. In 2015, Ebrahim was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment after being charged with “forming a group to disturb the country’s security”.
5/16/19 : Human Rights activists are often targeted in Saudi Arabi, and those fighting for women’s rights are high-profile targets. While campaigning for allowing women to drive and other basic rights, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi, and Aziza al-Youssef were arrested for the supposed crime of “undermining the kingdom's stability with financial assistance from abroad and for subverting national and religious traditions”. These prominent activists have been held since May 2018 and have yet to be sentenced.
5/15/19 : In 2006, Chinese authorities in Beijing detained Pastor David Lin under circumstances that remain unclear. In 2009, he was accused of contract fraud and sentenced to life imprisonment. Before his imprisonment, Pastor Lin was active in Beijing’s house church movement, which has long faced hostility from Chinese authorities.
5/14/19 : In 2018, 15 year old Leah Sharibu was abducted along with more than 100 of her classmates by extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. Leah is the last remaining captive from the group for refusing to deny her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Last year, Leah sent a note to her mother through a released classmate that read: “I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today, May 14th, is Leah's 16th birthday.
5/13/19 : In 2014, South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong Uk was sentenced to life imprisonment in labor camp after entering North Korea with religious materials – he was charged with spying and trying to set up an underground church. For years, Kim worked in a North Korean border town, providing humanitarian assistance and religious comfort to North Korean refugees.
5/12/19 : Andrzej Oniszczuk was detained in Russia on extremism charges in 2018 for singing Bible songs and studying religious literature. The Polish citizen was arrested after Russia outrageously labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization. A Jehovah's Witness spokesman has said that Andrzej was been kept in solitary confinement for over five months and is prohibited from lying down for 15 hours during the day.
5/11/19 : In Russia, it is not only dangerous to practice an unauthorized religion, but also to study one. In 2017, Yevgeny Kim was tortured in pre-trial detention before being sentenced to three years and nine months in prison for studying Muslim theologian Said Nursi's works. Kim was charged with organizing the activities of an organization Russia falsely labled as extremist.
5/10/19 : Pastor Wang Yi is a persecuted writer, editor, and human rights activist. For the simple “crime” of planning a prayer in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, he was arrested for “inciting subversion of state power”. Arrested in 2018, he faces up to 15 years in prison. Pastor Yi was quoted saying, "the right to speak is an inalienable one; one which is laid down in black and white in China’s constitution.”
5/9/19 : Indonesian pastor Abraham Ben Moses, a former Muslim, was arrested in 2017 after a video showing him sharing his Christian faith with a Muslim taxi driver was widely circulated. In 2018, he was sentenced to four years in prison on blasphemy charges for religious defamation.
5/8/19 : Bishop James Su Zhimin was falsely deemed "counterrevolutionary" for refusing to join the national Chinese Catholic Church (which is separated from the Roman Catholic Church) He was arrested in 1996 for conducting unregistered religious activities. Bishop Zhimin has spent 40 years in prison without charge or trial and has not been seen since 2003.
5/7/19 : Rmah Hlach (aka Ama Blut) is an ethnic Jrai Christian who was an activist for indigenous rights and religious freedom. He was arrested for these activities in 2009 and was sentenced to 12 years with an additional three years of house arrest. His whereabouts are currently unknown. Vietnam’s Communist Government continues to systematically suppress religious activities that are not approved of and controlled by the state.
5/6/19 : Danish citizen and Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen was arrested in 2017 and charged with organizing the activities of an extremist organization during a church service. Twenty months later, he was sentenced to six years in prison amid Russia’s nationwide campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Russian Supreme Court has designated Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization, threatening all members of the faith in Russia. Congregants have been subjected to police raids, detentions and criminal prosecutions.
Learn more about Dennis Christensen’s arrest, detention, and conviction here : tinyurl.com/yxkvum73
5/5/19 : Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. After his selection at the age of six, he was taken into what the Chinese communist government euphemistically described as “protective custody” – a more apt description would be that he was kidnapped. His whereabouts have been unknown and he is referred to as the "youngest political prisoner in the world". He has not been seen by any independent observer for nearly 24 years.
5/4/19 : Abune Antonios is the third Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. He has been under house arrest since 2007 when he was removed by the Eritrean government. In 2017, Antonios was allowed to make a public appearance for the first time in over a decade. Under heavy security, he attended Mass in Asmara, but was prevented from giving a sermon or speaking with congregants.
5/3/19 : The spiritual leader of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg, Ivan Matsitsky has been held since 2017 on charges of creating an extremist community and illegal entrepreneurship along with four other colleagues and is currently awaiting trial. Russia has repeatedly banned Scientology organizations and their activities, despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that denying the Church’s legal existence is a violation of freedom of religion.
5/2/19 : Professor Ilham Tohti, Uyghur economist, is known as a vocal advocate for Uyghur rights and regional autonomy laws in China. His initial detention began in 2009 after his writings were falsely blamed for ethnic rioting between Uyghurs and Han in the capital of Xinjiang. He is currently serving a life sentence in China, on separatism-related charges. Meanwhile over one million of his fellow Uyghurs are held in concentration-style camps in Xinjiang Province in one of the largest mass incarcerations since WWII.
5/1/19 : Saudi writer, activist, and dissident, Raif Badawi, was arrested in 2012 for simply establishing his website, set up for peaceful discussion about religion and reform in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison & 1000 lashes for this “crime”. Before his arrest, Raif was quoted saying, "To me, liberalism means simply to live and let live." Today, his exact location is unknown.