On September 23, 2019, eleven survivors of religious persecution traveled to New York City for the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. Several of the survivors had attended the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom a few months earlier.
Dabrina Bet Tamraz
Dabrina Bet Tamraz is the daughter of Iranian Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz. Pastor Bet Tamraz led a Farsi-language church in Iran until the authorities shut it down in 2009. Rather than fleeing the country, Dabrina courageously continued his work on behalf of the Christian faith. In 2017, Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced him to ten years in prison for “acting against national security by forming home churches, attending seminars abroad, and proselytizing Zionist Christianity.” In 2018, the court sentenced Pastor Bet Tamraz’s wife, Shamiram Isavi, to five years in prison on similar charges. Later that year, the court sentenced their son, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, to four months in prison for “spreading Christian propaganda.” They are currently out on bail awaiting the results of their appeals.
Dr. Rishat Abbas
Dr. Rishat Abbas has been an advocate for Uighur people suffering religious persecution and human right abuses. Dr. Abbas’ sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a 57-year-old retired medical doctor in Xinjiang, was abducted in Urumqi on September 11, 2018. Although authorities have provided no reason for her detention, the family suspects she was taken because of the human rights advocacy of Dr. Abbas and his other sister, Rushan Abbas of the Campaign for Uyghurs, who spoke out publicly about the atrocities in Xinjiang and conditions of the camps in New York on September 5, 2018 – six days before the abduction. Since Gulshan’s disappearance one year ago, China has provided no information about her welfare or whereabouts.
Irene Weiss was born Iren Fogel in 1930 in Bótrágy, Czechoslovakia (now Batrad, Ukraine). Over a two-month period beginning in May 1944, nearly 425,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, including Irene and her family. Irene was 13 years old at the time. Upon arrival at the camp, her mother, three younger siblings and older brother were killed. Her father was killed a few weeks later. After eight months of slave labor in Birkenau, Irene, her older sister, and two aunts were forcibly evacuated on foot from Auschwitz in January 1945 to two more concentration camps. With the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Irene, her sister and aunt immigrated to New York in 1947. Irene married Martin Weiss in 1949 and they moved to northern Virginia in 1953. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from American University and taught in the Fairfax County Public school system for 13 years. Martin passed away in January 2013. Irene has three children, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. A volunteer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Irene is a frequent speaker about her experiences. In January 2015, Irene was a Member of the Presidential Delegation to the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In July 2015, Irene was a co-plaintiff in the trial of former SS-Unterscharführer Oskar Groning in Luneburg Germany and a co-plaintiff in the trial of former SS-Unterscharfuhrer Reinhold Hanning in Detmold Germany in February 2016.
Jewher Ilham is the daughter of Uyghur scholar, Ilham Tohti, an internationally noted advocate dedicated to bridging the gap between the Uyghur people and the Han Chinese. While awaiting a flight from Beijing to the United States in 2013, authorities detained Ilham Toti at the airport. At eighteen years old Jewher had to start a new life in Bloomington, Indiana while her father’s situation in Chinese custody rapidly worsened. In September 2014, authorities sentenced him to life in prison based on writings on his website that promoted peaceful co-existence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. As an advocate for her father, she has testified before government bodies, authored op-eds, met with government officials, and received numerous awards worldwide on behalf of her father. In 2015, she recounted her experiences in the book, Jewher Ilham: A Uyghur’s Fight to Free Her Father. Jewher graduated in May 2019 from Indiana University. She is now the director of public relations of the Campaign for Uyghurs, a nonprofit organization working to promote and advocate for the human rights and democratic freedom of the Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic minority groups in China.
Mariam Ibraheem is a Sudanese Christian who was imprisoned for her faith in December 2013 and later sentenced to death. She was born to a Christian mother and a Muslim father, but the government automatically considered her a Muslim because of her father’s religion. Sudanese authorities declared Mariam an apostate for refusing to recant her Christian faith and imprisoned her along with her 9-month-old son, Martin. In prison, Mariam discovered she was pregnant, and her torture and execution sentence was postponed until after the birth of her daughter. Mariam gave birth to her daughter, Maya, chained in a prison cell in May 2014. Mariam’s story has garnered international attention and many have advocated for her release. Mariam was freed soon after Maya’s birth and she eventually moved to the United States with her family. Since her release, Mariam has sought to publicly advocate for any and all those who are persecuted for their faith.
Ms. Zumrat Dawut
Ms. Zumrat Dawut was detained in a camp in Xinjiang from April to June 2017. In the camps, she was beaten by Chinese guards and given unknown medicine/drugs that made her feel dizzy and disoriented. Upon her release, she was forced to officially renounce her faith, raise a Chinese flag every day, and live with government-assigned Han Chinese “relatives.” She arrived in the United States with her husband and three children in April 2019.
Nadia Murad, a member of Iraq’s Yezidi religious minority community, was born into a farming family in the village of Kojo in the Yezidi homeland of Sinjar, Iraq. When she was 19 years old, ISIS attacked her village and killed 600 Yezidi men, including several of her family members. Nadia and other young women were taken prisoner and subjected to beatings and rape. She managed to escape and make her way to a refugee camp where she was offered the opportunity to move to Germany. She is the founder, chairperson, and president of Nadia’s Initiative, which helps women and children who are victims of abuse and human trafficking. She was appointed the United Nations’ Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016 and received numerous other accolades. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nury Turkel is a U.S.-based Uighur rights advocate and attorney at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in litigation, government enforcement, and regulatory compliance. Turkel was born in a re-education camp in China’s Xinjiang region, and has long advocated for the rights of the Uighur people in the region. Turkel is the former president of the Uyghur American Association, as well as the current chair of the board of directors of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), an organization that is committed to promoting human rights and democracy. Turkel serves as a prominent voice for the Uighur people by urging international action against the repression of the Uighur people, such as international sanctions against Chinese government officials who actively participate in the abuse of human rights. Turkel holds a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law, and has been featured in various media outlets such as BBC, Financial Review, and PRI as well as foreign policy forums.
Nyima Lhamo is a human rights advocate and the niece of the late Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly revered reincarnate lama and one of the most prominent Tibetan political prisoners who died in a Chinese prison in July 2015. Nyima and her mother, Dolkar Lhamo, were detained by Chinese authorities for publicly questioning the cause of her uncle’s death and demanding an investigation. Nyima fled and arrived in India on July 24, 2016, leaving behind her mother and 6-year-old daughter. Despite the risks, she continues to speak out about her uncle’s death while in Chinese custody, appealing to the international community to call on the Chinese government to investigate the circumstances of his death. She has raised her uncle’s case at the UN Human Rights Council, briefed international officials, visited more than ten countries to pledge her case for her uncle, and testified before the U.S. Congress. Nyima’s family continues to face harassment by authorities, who threaten continued persecution of her family unless she stops her advocacy.
Pastor Andrew Brunson
Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American citizen who had resided in Turkey for more than 23 years, was imprisoned by authorities in October 2016 on charges of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” He was a pastor for the Izmir Diriliş (Resurrection) Church, a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation in the city of Izmir. After intense international pressure and high-level engagement by the United States, Pastor Brunson was released from house arrest in October 2018 and was allowed to return to the United States.
Rabbi Faiz Algaradi
Rabbi Faiz Algaradi is among the last members of the Jewish community in Yemen, which has been systematically driven out by repressive policies and persecution. The rise of the Houthi rebels forced most of Yemen’s Jews into exile. In Yemen, he held rabbinical and government positions and served as the director of education and chief leader of Yemeni Jewry for more than ten years. Since immigrating to the United States, he has helped his members of his community to resettle while maintaining their ancestral and cultural ties. He is the author of Bechire Sagulah, a book in Hebrew that covers Yemeni culture and history from the time of King Solomon until 2014. Through his advocacy, Rabbi Algaradi has fought for the recognition of human rights for all, including equal rights for women and minorities.