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GCR team attends IRF Summit to advocate for persecuted Christians

January 29, 2024 by Abigail Hart in Religious Freedom


• Wed. 1/31 at 2:00 pm ET: Breakout Session on Christian Persecution in Latin America

Speaker Martha Patricia Molina, a lawyer and religious freedom expert, discussed Christian persecution in Nicaragua at length, explaining how the government interfered with thousands of religious processions, most notably during Holy Week in 2023.

The administration of President Ortega has forcefully removed and/or imprisoned priests, nuns and members of the clergy who have been critical of the leader, including Bishop Rolando Alvarez who was held in solitary confinement before eventually being exiled to the Vatican; Ortega has accused the church leaders of encouraging a coup.

According to Molina, many religious leaders who remain in the country are currently being subjected to financial Christian persecution, including frozen personal bank accounts and unusually large tax burdens placed upon houses of worship.

Dr. Kyle Wisdom (Deputy Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom) discussed the new Violent Incidents Database funded by Global Christian Relief, which is currently tracking over 6,800 incidences of persecution around the globe, to date. Taking a question from the audience about the benefits of the database, Wisdom explained that it is searchable and accessible to anyone, and the information and sources it cites will assist organizations with accurate reporting of persecution.

The panel of six speakers also discussed Christian persecution in Cuba. A recent survey of randomly selected Cuban citizens found that nearly 7 in 10 people had either been personally subjected to religious persecution—or knew someone who had been negatively impacted by it.

Lastly, the panel touched upon religious persecution caused by organized crime syndicates and drug cartels. Wisdom recalled a recent story about Christian persecution in Mexico in which a pastor experienced death threats from drug cartel members for doing something seemingly benign: organizing an informal youth soccer league. It is believed that the pastor’s actions may have reduced the cartel’s access to young errand runners and drug transporters.

Photo Caption: Panelists discuss religious persecution in Latin America and persecution data tracking.

Dr. Kyle Wisdom Discusses the New Violent Incidents Database Funded by Global Christian Relief

• Wed. 1/31 at 10:45 am ET: Dr. David Curry Moderates Panel on Religious Persecution in India

“We have the gravest threat to religious freedom in India right now,” remarked David Curry, President & CEO of Global Christian Relief, as he kicked off a 4-person speaker panel focusing on the challenges encountered by India’s minority religious communities—including the country’s millions of Christians.

Curry addressed panelist Sukhman Dhami of Ensaaf, a human rights organization that works to achieve justice in India for mass crimes. He confirmed that “India has become a country where persecution based on faith is a consistent feature.” Another panelist commented that “Religious minorities have been demoted as second class citizens” in the South Asian nation. The speakers encouraged the IRF Summit audience to not see India as a binary nation of Hindus and non-Hindus, but rather to consider its rich religious diversity and history.

Curry asked panelist Binalakshmi Nepram to expand upon the experience of Indian citizens in violence-torn Manipur State. Nepram recalled growing up there and watching her grandfather become the victim of religious persecution. Addressing today’s issues, she said, “The government of India is siding with the majority [Hindu] religion” resulting in countless people from Manipur—mostly believers—being left homeless to fend for themselves.

The panelists raised awareness for a number of issues afflicting people of faith, including the government spying on religious diaspora communities, a caste system that does not promote liberty or fraternity, gross human rights violations, a culture of impunity, and suspicious deaths and targeted killings of Indians occurring in nations around the world.

Photo Caption: Curry and four panelists discuss the challenges of persecution in India.

Dr. David Curry Moderates a Panel on Religious Persecution in India

• Wed. 1/31 at 9:30 am ET: Remarks from Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson

In a historic first, the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit welcomed the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, to the main stage. While international religious freedom has been a U.S. foreign policy priority for more than 20 years, there have been few, if any, addresses delivered by a sitting speaker of either party that directly championed the importance of this fundamental right. As Johnson welcomed the crowd, he shared, “This is truly one of the most diverse and most important meetings that happens in Washington.”

Johnson gave an impassioned speech about the importance of religious freedom, commenting that “Since our founding, America has been the greatest proponent for religious freedom around the world.” Johnson then detailed the founding fathers’ understanding that religious freedom is something that comes from God—not the government.

If we examine the course of world history, Johnson said that as governments take away religious freedom, restrictions on political freedom soon follow. He then addressed Christian persecution and despotic leaders in places like Nicaragua, Cuba, North Korea and more. Johnson emphasized that while some believe religious freedom is simply a western or American value, it is actually a universal—and highly beneficial—value. “Religious freedom is truly for all people,” he proclaimed. “Economic prosperity grows when the people are allowed to follow their faith.”

Photo Caption: Johnson gives opening remarks at the morning session of the IRF Summit.

Mike Johnson Discusses America's Commitment to Religious Freedom

• Tues. 1/30 at 9:00 am ET: David Curry Provides an Update on Facebook Live

President & CEO of Global Christian Relief, Dr. David Curry, provided a video update at the IRF Summit for the organization’s social media followers on Facebook & Instagram. Watch below as Curry discusses Christian persecution in North Korea, Mike Johnson’s special appearance and more.

• Tues. 1/30 at 4:15 pm ET: Breakout Session on Blasphemy in Asia

Speaker Amjad Khan, National Director of Public Affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim USA Community, discussed a recent study on blasphemy laws around the world—which often cause innocent Christian minorities to languish behind bars in places like Pakistan and Indonesia. The study found that terrorist attacks are six times more likely to occur in nations with blasphemy laws, when compared to nations without blasphemy laws. The study suggests that nations without blasphemy laws are more likely to experience a higher degree of overall safety.

Photo Caption: Khan co-leads a breakout session on blasphemy and violence across Asia.

Breakout Session Attendees Hear About the Consequences of Blasphemy Laws

• Tues. 1/30 at 2:00 pm ET: Religious Freedom Chat with Mike Pence

Mike Pence, who served as Vice President of the United States under the Trump administration, made a special appearance at the IRF Summit’s afternoon session. The crowd welcomed him with a standing ovation, and then he began his remarks on the topic of religious freedom. Host Antonia Ferrier of the International Republican Institute asked Pence to expand on the topic of Christian persecution in Central America. Pence declared that “Nicaragua is simply a case in point where we see the rise of dictatorial rule—and the church becomes a focal point.”

Pence referenced the sharp decline in religious freedom for Nicaraguan citizens under authoritarian President Daniel Ortega; the government has arrested and/or exiled a number of Christian leaders who have spoken out against corruption—falsely accusing priests, nuns and clergy members of inciting violence.

Pence and Ferrier then transitioned to a discussion on Christian persecution in China. “I think communist China represents the greatest economic and strategic threat to the U.S. and the West in the 21st century,” shared Pence. We as a nation can best respond “with strength and moral clarity,” he suggested. Pence then commented on religious persecution in East Asia, recalling a meeting with a freed North Korean believer who had previously been imprisoned. He mentioned that every freed person he encounters is emblematic of those who remain in captivity.

Pence urged the audience to continue giving a voice to those who are suffering. He prompted the IRF attendees to lean into their values as we collectively look ahead to a day when religious captives are set free. He said, “The future of mankind depends on religious freedom,” explaining that the work being done to advance religious liberty also lays a foundation for worldwide freedom as a whole. In his closing remarks, he referenced Galatians 6:9, encouraging attendees to “not grow weary in well doing.”

Photo Caption: Pence and Ferrier discuss the connection between religious freedom and global freedom.

Mike Pence Discusses Christian Persecution at the IRF Summit Afternoon Session

• Tues. 1/30 at 11:00 am ET: Breakout Session on Conflict Zones Including Ukraine

Nine speakers, including Dmytro Lubinets (Ombudsman, Ukraine) and Victor Zelensky (Director, Ukrainian State Service for Ethnic Policy and Religious Affairs) gathered to discuss religious freedom violations in war and conflict zones.

Touching upon Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weaponization of religion, Lubinets confirmed that Russia has captured at least 29 Christian religious leaders in Ukraine—although it is believed that the number is much higher—and these church elders are frequently accused of being American spies and enemies of the Russian Orthodox faith. Sadly, the nation’s arbitrary arrests and detentions are often accompanied by torture, attempted rape and threats of murder.

Lubinets stated that the persecution of Ukrainian Christians was previously documented in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and portions of Donbas. And, since February 2022, Russia has damaged or destroyed over 600 religious buildings and artifacts in Ukraine. The presenters encouraged religious freedom advocates to hold Russia accountable for not only displacing millions of Ukrainians, but also neglecting and disrespecting other expressions of Christianity.

Photo Caption: Lubinets discusses Russia’s continued violations of human rights and religious freedom.

The IRF Summit's Breakout Session on Christian Persecution in Ukraine Draws a Crowd

Dmytro Lubinets (Ombudsman, Ukraine) Discusses Russia's Persecution of Ukrainian Church Leaders

• Tues. 1/30 at 9:45 am ET: GCR Team Attends Opening Session Featuring Sam Brownback

A packed crowd of enthusiastic IRF Summit attendees gathered in the ballroom for the event’s opening session. Susan Crabtree, a political correspondent for RealClear Politics, moderated an insightful panel with Sam Brownback, the IRF Summit 2024 Co-Chair and former US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and several others.

Brownback commented on the importance of religious freedom as it pertains to a free and open society as a whole—remarking that the authoritarian government of China views it as a major threat. According to Brownback, “If religious freedom is adequately protected, freedom itself can find space to take root and to grow for the good of everyone.”

Photo Caption: Sam Brownback appears before a robust crowd of IRF Summit attendees. 

Summit Co-Chair Sam Brownback Discusses Religious Freedom During the IRF Opening Session

A Packed Crowd Gathers for the IRF Summit Opening Session

• Tues. 1/30 at 9:30 am ET: Dr. David Curry Discusses Christian Persecution with Crossing Faiths

Dr. David Curry met with JT Pinna of Crossing Faiths, a long-running podcast offering an opportunity for people of diverse faiths to discuss their thoughts openly. Curry touched upon the state of the world today: “Conditions have never been worse for religious freedom. There are more dictators, authoritarian regimes, oppressive governments and extremists of all different kinds. These conditions are going to require those of us in the persecution advocacy space to rally together to address the situation.”

He also shared his concerns on Christian persecution in Nigeria, remarking, “The administration and the State Department do not want to acknowledge that Muslim extremists in Nigeria are killing thousands of Christians every year.” Please stay tuned for the forthcoming podcast episode.

Dr. David Curry Interviews with the Hosts of the Crossing Faiths Podcast

• Tues. 1/30 at 9:00 am ET: Dr. David Curry Discusses Persecution in China with Epoch Times

The IRF Summit is bustling as participants pick up their badge credentials and prepare for a packed agenda full of insightful meetings and speaker panels on the topic of religious persecution. Dr. David Curry, President & CEO of Global Christian Relief, began his day discussing the topic of persecution in China in a one-on-one interview with a reporter from the Epoch Times, a news site that aims to cover important topics that other media sites ignore. Says Curry, “There is an unholy alliance taking place between China and its American business partners who choose to overlook the systemic issues taking place in East Asia.” Stay tuned for the forthcoming interview.

Photo Caption: Dr. David Curry shares his thoughts on Christian persecution in China.


Dr. David Curry Conducts an Interview with Epoch Times

• Mon. 1/29 at 8:30 am ET: GCR Hosts Facebook Livestream Event

On Monday morning, the President & CEO of Global Christian Relief, Dr. David Curry, and Senior Director of Advocacy, Isaac Six, hosted a livestream video event on social media platform, Facebook. Hear about GCR’s plans during the IRF Summit, discover how you can pray for the event, and find out why Isaac is most concerned about religious freedom violations in China in the video below.


• Mon. 1/29 at 6:00 pm ET: Meeting at the Hungarian Embassy

In a continued effort to advocate for persecuted Christians everywhere, Dr. David Curry  (President & CEO, Global Christian Relief) and Isaac Six (Senior Director of Advocacy, Global Christian Relief) attended a special meeting this evening at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Participants discussed current world events and collaborated on prospective solutions alongside representatives from Hungary Helps, an organization that operates under the coordination of the Prime Minister’s office. As a governmental agency, Hungary Helps emphasizes the respect of freedom, culture and dignity, endeavoring to cooperate with other nations around the world. Hungary Helps’ humanitarian projects are often implemented in partnership with faith-based organizations.

Photo caption: A speaker addresses the audience inside the Hungarian embassy.

GCR Attends a Religious Freedom Meeting at the Hungarian Embassy

• Mon. 1/29 at 10:00 am ET: Special IRF Roundtable with U.S. Government Partners

A few hundred IRF attendees gathered at the Hart Senate Office Building to hear from organizations that partner with the U.S. government on matters of religious freedom.

The crowd received updates on the suffering of believers in war-torn Ukraine; to date, Russia has damaged, destroyed or looted an estimated 630 religious sites—including many evangelical Christian churches.

Additionally, it was confirmed that approximately 450 Armenian Christian religious sites in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh have been forcibly turned over to the government of Azerbaijan.

In regard to Nigeria, the U.S. government was urged to reconsider classifying the nation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to the repeated atrocities experienced by various communities of faith, including persecuted Christians. It was confirmed that thousands of Nigerian girls remain in captivity due to extremists onslaughts and kidnappings. In one month alone, an estimated 500 people recently died due to violent attacks in Plateau State.

Also discussed was a forthcoming virtual hearing on the increased usage of authoritarian tactics to suppress religion in South Asia—influenced by similar measures in China and Saudi Arabia—and a forthcoming report on the rise of anti-semitism in Europe. The international community was urged to come together in unity to more effectively address multiple attempted genocides occurring around the world.

Photo caption: Attendees gather in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Participants Gather for a Religious Freedom Roundtable Event with U.S. Government Partners

• Mon. 1/29 at 2:00 pm ET: Discussion of Religious Persecution in India

This afternoon, GCR staff held a meeting to discuss the Indian government’s embrace of Hindu nationalism—a movement that increasingly breeds violence against minority religions in a nation that was once founded upon secular principles.

Participants discussed incidences of mob violence and sexual assault in the Indian state of Manipur during 2023. There, thousands of people—mostly Christians—were displaced.

Attendees also discussed Prime Minister Modi’s recent decision to preside over a consecration ceremony for a new Hindu temple: an occasion that was celebrated by millions across the country. Modi and the BJP political party are working to shore up approval prior to upcoming elections in April, when Modi will attempt to secure a third term.

The speakers agreed that modern-day India has been redefined by the Hindu nationalist movement. As such, religious freedom advocates must reevaluate their tactics to best address the present situation in an effort to support of persecuted Christians. Participants also considered if India could potentially be nominated as a future Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to repeated and egregious violations of religious freedom.

Video description: In a highly publicized event, Prime Minister Modi bows before an idol in a new Hindu temple.

About the International Religious Freedom Summit

The IRF Summit will take place on Tuesday, January 30 – Wednesday, January 31, 2024. In attendance will be politicians, leaders of non-governmental organizations and nonprofits, influencers, thought leaders, survivors of persecution and more. A variety of special events, speaker panels and breakout sessions will allow participants to take a deep dive into the nuances and critical aspects of religious freedom.

The Summit brings together a broad coalition of individuals and organizations that passionately support religious freedom around the world. It will not only connect advocates and resources; it will highlight the personal testimonies of survivors of religious persecution. Bringing attention to the plight of vulnerable people of faith—including persecuted Christians—will grow the grassroots global movement for religious freedom.

The anticipated outcome of the event involves gaining the necessary political support for the global religious freedom movement in an effort to embolden governments and society to take a stand for religious freedom.

Please bookmark this page to follow our periodic updates throughout the week. In doing so, you’ll discover how Global Christian Relief is advocating for persecuted Christians by participating in important conversations among those who champion religious freedom for people of faith around the world. Forthcoming IRF recaps include the discussion of the all-new Violent Incidents Database funded by GCR, which is currently tracking thousands of incidences of religious persecution around the world.

Around the world, many of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ lack access to basic necessities, including food, shelter, or even a Bible. But you can help! Through a gift of just $5 or more today, you can equip a vulnerable believer with the Word of God to sustain them amid threats, violence and persecution. Please give generously today.

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