Canadian pastor released from North Korea

hyeon-soo-lim

Amid increased tensions between the North Korea and the U.S., North Korean authorities have confirmed release of Canadian church leader Hyeon Soo Lim, though he has not arrived in Canada yet.

Lim was the longest detained Westerner in decades by the regime, having spent two and a half years imprisoned. North Korean authorities reported that the Canadian citizen was released for “humanitarian reasons.”

Lim was detained in February 2015 while he was on a mission trip in North Korea. He had been sent by the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, which he had led since 1986. He had made several trips to North Korea, numbering over 100. His work in North Korea included providing humanitarian assistance to an orphanage, nursery, and nursing home.

Three Korean-American remain detained in North Korea: Tony Kim, Kim Hak Song, and Kim Dong Chul.

We praise the Lord for the release of Hyeon Soo Lim, and continue praying for the release of those who remained detained by the regime.

Imprisoned 600 Days: Update on Vietnam Christian Prisoner

Nguyen-Van-Dai.-Danluan.org_-300x245 (1)

Nguyen Van Dai of Vietnam was charged on July 30, 2017, with “carrying out activities with the purpose of overthrowing the Peoples’ administration.” If he is found guilty of this crime, he could face up to 20 years in prison or even the death penalty.

Dai is a religious freedom advocate and human rights lawyer who has been in detention since December 2015. He has been detained for 19 months without a trial.

August 7, marked his 600th day in prison. Activists in London chalked 600 lines and the hashtag #FreeNguyenVanDai on the sidewalk in front of the Vietnamese Embassy.

This is not the first time that Dai has been punished for his human rights work. One year after founding the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam in 2006, he was put under house arrest. He was forced to stay under house arrest until 2015.

Jubilee Campaign has been advocating to the US State Department to designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). CPCs are countries that severely violate religious freedom. With Vietnam’s continued practice of arresting religious freedom advocates such as Mr. Dai, we are asking that the US recognize and take action against the government’s abuse of human rights.

Please pray for Dai and others in Vietnam who are facing unfair imprisonment.

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.

maryam-smaller (1)

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.

Nguyen Cong Chinh (1)

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.