Defending Freedoms – Defending Prisoners of Conscience


Prisoners of conscience (POCs) are persons imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political, religious, or other conscientiously held beliefs, even though they have neither used nor advocated for violence. As the number of POCs continues to increase globally, and as the space for civil society continues to shrink under authoritarian governments, it is vital that the international community, and Congress in particular, bring attention to those imprisoned for peacefully exercising their most basic human rights, and work to secure their freedom.

In conjunction with various civil society organizations who will serve as witnesses at the hearing, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) launched the Defending Freedoms Project (DFP) in 2012 to help Members of Congress advocate for the release of POCs around the world. Through the DFP, Members “adopt” incarcerated prisoners of conscience, highlight the circumstances of their imprisonment and stand in solidarity with the prisoner through letters, floor speeches, Op-Eds, and other actions to keep them and their situation in the public eye so they are not forgotten. The advocacy efforts of Members and their staff have often contributed to better prison conditions, the reduction of prison sentences, and even their release.

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) for a hearing on advocating for prisoners of conscience (POCs) around the world.

Members who have served as advocates for POCs will share their experiences. Through written statements, released prisoners of conscience will explain how advocacy on their behalf meant that their unjust imprisonment had not been forgotten, and for those still imprisoned, continues to give them hope that one day they will be released. Members and witnesses will share best practices for defending prisoners of conscience as a way of reinforcing human rights as a key aspect of United States foreign policy.


Rep. Randy Hultgren, Co-Chair of TLHRC, Advocate for Zhu Yufu, China

Rep. James McGovern, Co-Chair of TLHRC, Advocate for Raif Badawi (above right), Saudi Arabia, and Nabeel Rajab (right), Bahrain

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Advocate for Ta Phong Tan, Vietnam

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Advocate for Nguyen Cong Chinh, Vietnam


Andrew Fandino, Senior Program Officer, Amnesty International

Kristina Arriaga, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Melina Milazzo, DC Director, Freedom Now

Margaux Ewen, North American Director, Reporters Without Borders

Annie Boyajian, Advocacy Manager, Freedom House 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2:00 – 3:30

2255 Rayburn House Office Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

The hearing is open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public, and the media. The hearing will be livestreamed via YouTube on the Commission website, and will also be available for viewing on the House Digital Channel service. For any questions, please contact Jamie Staley (for Mr. Hultgren) at 202-226-1516 or or Kimberly Stanton (for Mr. McGovern) at 202-225-3599 or

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