I love Christmas. I especially love the fact that it comes right in the middle of the darkest part of the year here in the UK. Just when I’ve had about enough of the cold, dark, rainy British wintertime, everything is brightened up by Christmas decorations in my neighbours’ windows, trees along our street festooned with lights, and plans for good times ahead with family and friends. 2020 is sure to be a Christmas like no other, including in the UK, but there are still things we can do to remind us of the festive spirit.
Just last week I received a lovely Christmas card with a heartfelt message. It came at just the right time, as I’d been thinking about friends and activists in China. This always makes me sad, not only because it’s impossible to visit the country right now, but more because so many of them – being Christian leaders, human rights lawyers or citizen journalists – will be spending Christmas and New Year in prison cells far away from their loved ones. Contemplating their situation, and the Chinese government’s crackdown on Christians, it seemed ironic to me that the card I held in my hands was ‘made in China’.
Take for example Zhang Zhan, a Christian citizen journalist and human rights defender. Zhang was one of the brave few who attempted to report the truth in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marilín Alayo Correa is a Cuban pastor and a leader within the Apostolic Movement. Marilín is also married to Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente, who is one of the key leaders in the Apostolic Movement. As a result of their work, both Marilín and her husband have been extensively targeted by the Cuban authorities for over two decades.
Most recently, Marilín shared a video testimony with CSW reflecting on her family’s story and the situation for religious groups in Cuba nearly 15 years after CSW began documenting the family’s case. In the past year, her husband Alain has also been placed on a travel restriction list and is regularly summoned to appear at their local police station.
Dabrina Bet-Tamraz is an Iranian Christian human rights defender who currently resides in exile in Europe. In her home country, her entire family faces intense pressure from the Iranian government; her father, mother and brother have been charged with national security-related crimes for participating in everyday religious activities.
Dabrina has dedicated her life to advocating for her family and others like them facing persecution in Iran. She has raised their cases at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as with President Donald Trump when she attended the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the USA. In this interview she sheds light on her experiences as a young Christian in Iran, and on the current situation for her family and other Christians in the country.
“Growing up as a Christian in Iran, it was always obvious we were treated differently. Until I was about ten, the church experienced a decade of severe persecution. Pastors were being killed, churches were under massive pressure, and my parents were regularly taken in for interrogation.
When I was a teenager we were constantly under surveillance; we were bugged and there were spies in the church. It began to make us question everything everyone says. We didn’t know who we could trust.
Since June 2019, Hong Kong has seen unprecedented protests in which millions of citizens have taken to the streets calling for democracy and respect for human rights. Despite a repressive and violent government response, demonstrations remain ongoing seven months later.
CSW recently spoke to a Chinese human rights advocate, who shared his views on the current situation and what may lie ahead for Hong Kong.
The protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill. Now that the bill has been officially withdrawn, why are people still protesting?
The withdrawal of the extradition bill is just one of the Hong Kong protesters’ five demands, so the protests continue. They also want to be able to vote for their own leader, and for there to be an independent investigation committee to look into violations by the police. These things are also very important to the protesters, so just withdrawing the law couldn’t satisfy the public.
In several Latin
American countries, religious leaders often take on the roles of community
leader and human rights defender. As a result, these leaders often face
harassment, intimidation and even violence at the hands of state and non-state
actors. Over the next few weeks CSW will be presenting interviews with
religious leaders working in the region to highlight their experiences on the
frontlines of freedom of religion or belief.
Otto is a Protestant
pastor working in Tuluá, Colombia.
“If you say anything you will end up like those two…
It was a Sunday morning, everything was normal, but it was a day in which our lives would change.