Two Prisoners Set Free

We are happy to report the release of two Christians who faced long prison sentences due to their Christian faith.

Iran

Maryam Naghash Zargaran was released from prison on August 1. Maryam was arrested in January 2013 due to her involvement with underground churches. She was charged with “violating national security” and sentenced to four years in prison. In her conviction letter, the court clearly stated that her punishment was linked to her attempts to spread Christianity in Iran.

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Maryam suffers from an array of health problems such as heart disease, lumbar disc disease, and osteoporosis. Many times in prison, she was denied medical care. She went on multiple hunger strikes to protest this ill treatment. The medical leave that she was allowed to take, resulted in a six-week extension of her sentence in order to make up for her time away. Even as her final release date of July 28 came, she was held four days more for unknown reasons. Maryam was finally released on August 1.

Vietnam

Nguyen Cong Chinh was released from prison on July 28. He is an evangelical pastor, founder of the Vietnamese People’s Evangelical Fellowship, and pro-democracy activist. Pastor Chinh was arrested in April 2011 and sentenced in June 2012 to 11 years in prison for ‘undermining national unity.’ While in prison he faced torture and solitary confinement. While Chinh was in prison, his wife was also monitored, harassed, and physically beaten by government officials.

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His wife traveled and worked tirelessly to advocate for Chinh’s release. On July 28, he was released from prison on the condition of the Vietnamese regime that he leave the country. Exiled, he left Vietnam and is now in the United States.

“The Vietnamese government finally has done the right thing by releasing Pastor Chinh from prison. We welcome his admission, along with his family, to the United States. The reality is that he should not have been imprisoned in the first place for simply practicing his faith,” said USCIRF Commissioner Jackie Wolcott, who has advocated on behalf of the pastor. “Pastor Chinh was falsely charged and imprisoned and treated cruelly, as are countless other religious believers and human rights activists who continue to be harassed, detained, and tortured in Vietnam.”

We praise God for the release of these two faithful Christians! Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who remain in chains.

Trump Nominates International Religious Freedom Ambassador

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/07/26/brownback-religious-freedom-trump-241007

Photo: Politico

Governor Sam Brownback has been nominated by President Trump as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Before serving as governor in Kansas, Brownback served in the Senate from 1996-2011. As senator, he was instrumental in promoting human rights policies.

Brownback was a sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This act has been one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation in protecting those worldwide from religious discrimination and persecution.

Furthermore, he sponsored the North Korea Human Rights Act, which was signed into law in 2004 and is due to be reauthorized this year. Some of the goals of this law are to provide humanitarian assistance for those inside North Korea, to input information about the outside world into North Korea, and to support North Korean refugees.

Many have recognized the necessity to fill the Ambassador’s position. The nomination was applauded by Senator Lankford who released a statement saying:

“As anti-religious freedom regimes expand around the world, the United States should clearly speak out for human rights, including religious liberty…

…Mr. Brownback has been Governor of Kansas since 2011. Previously, he served as a US Senator (1996-2011) and a Representative in the House of Representatives (1995-1996) from Kansas. While a member of the Senate, he worked actively on the issue of religious freedom in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”

What does the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom do?

The Ambassador for International Religious Freedom heads the International Religious Freedom Office within the State Department. This office monitors the status of religious liberty in every country, recommends ways to improve religious freedom, and creates programs to foster such freedoms.

One of the major initiatives of the office is to create an annual report to Congress to document the status of religious freedom in 195 countries and suggest solutions. Those with the worst religious freedom situations are categorized as Countries of Particular Concern. Countries put on this list may be subject to US sanctions.

The Ambassador often meets with US and foreign government officials to raise concerns of religious freedom and negotiate solutions.

ERITREA: No improvement in Human Rights

http://www.trtworld.com/mea/why-is-eritrea-the-worlds-fastest-emptying-nation-377933

Photo by AP

A new report on Eritrea was submitted at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva by Special Rapporteur Sheila B. Keetharuth. The report acted as a follow-up on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, which was extended last June.

In her report, Special Rapporteur Keetharuth notes that “the Government of Eritrea has not made any effort to address the human rights concerns highlighted by the Commission of Inquiry and that it has shown no willingness to tackle impunity with regard to perpetrators of past and ongoing violations.”

The submission of the report came just weeks after World Watch Monitor had first reported the arrest of 90 Christians on May 26. An additional 17 Christian men were arrested on May 28, while 5 more were taken from their homes on June 6, bringing the number of Christians arrested since the beginning of May to over 120.

Christians are particularly vulnerable to arrest around Eritrea’s Independence Day, which is on May 24, because they refuse to participate in activities that are contrary to their beliefs. Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported that at least 28 Christians have died from incarcerations in Eritrea.

Although Christianity is technically not prohibited in Eritrea, the government only allows three denominations: the Roman Catholic Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church of Eritrea. However, the churches are heavily influenced by the government, often having leaders appointed by the State and messages that have been pre-approved to fit the government’s agenda. Individuals of other Christian denominations are prohibited from practicing their beliefs.

Despite efforts by the United Nations to urge the government of Eritrea to improve their human rights, there have not been any positive developments. Approximately 5,000 Eritreans flee the small country as refugees every month.

Please continue to pray for the human rights conditions in Eritrea to improve, and for the Christians to be strengthened in the Lord.

NEW WEBSITE: Solution for Syria

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We’ve launched a new website! –> solutionforsyria.org

Jubilee Campaign has launched a new website dedicated solely to our Syria efforts. As you may know, for the past few years we have been advocating for a solution to the Syrian crisis – a solution that comes from the people and is representative of the people.

So far, peace talks and other initiatives for a solution have left out many of Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities, only including the actors engaged in violence. However, many of Syria’s minorities have been instrumental in protecting vulnerable areas from ISIS, as well as maintaining peace in areas previously consumed by fighting. We find it puzzling that the actors who have remained peaceful are being left out of discussions regarding a solution.

We are advocating for a democratic, pluralistic solution for Syria. In northeast Syria, a group of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens of various religions have established the Self Administration Areas of North East Syria. This region is self-governed, and functions on a social contract “based upon mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands of society.” As we advocate for a democratic, pluralistic solution for Syria, we look to the Self Administration Areas as a prime example of how this solution can be achieved.

Our new website will provide information on the solution we are proposing and advocating for, current news on Syria, as well as opportunities for you to be involved. Be on the lookout tomorrow for when the website goes live! We will be sending an email with the link, as well as posting it to our social media accounts.

As always, please remember to pray for the crisis to end in Syria. And please pray that our advocacy initiatives will be effective and well-received!

Trump Extends Sudan Sanctions Review

President Trump issued an executive order to extend the sanctions review period on Sudan for 3 months. The State Department released the following in a press statement:

“The President’s E.O. extends the review period for an additional three months and provides for the revocation of those sanctions if the Government of Sudan (GOS) sustains the positive actions that gave rise to E.O. 13761, including maintaining a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan; improving humanitarian access throughout Sudan; and maintaining its cooperation with the United States on addressing regional conflicts and the threat of terrorism.”

The Sudanese government has made some improvements, however, inexcusable human rights violations persist. For example the Sudanese government continues to deny aid distribution to desperate citizens who live in war-torn, marginalized communities. Therefore, we are thankful for this extended period of time for Sudan to take the necessary steps to meet more acceptable human rights criteria.

Thank you to those who engaged the US government on this issue. Jubilee Campaign will continue to advocate for human rights in Sudan.