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Norwegian Parliamentarian to be Recognized for Global Efforts to Promote Freedom of Religion or Belief

Norwegian parliamentarian and human rights activist Abid Q. Raja has been named the 2018 recipient of the International Religious Liberty Association’s (IRLA) International Award for Outstanding Leadership in Religious Freedom Advocacy. The award will be presented in May 2018 at the 16th annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C., an event that brings together diplomats, United States’ government officials, religious leaders, and religious liberty advocates. Past keynote speakers include Senator John McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry, and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.

Dwayne Leslie, IRLA’s Deputy Secretary General, says that Mr. Raja was chosen for his extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom of religion or belief, not just in his native Norway, but internationally as well, through a groundbreaking effort to mobilize a worldwide group of elected government representatives.

“Mr. Raja has shown what can be accomplished when an elected leader is prepared to look beyond their own political milieu, and to become a champion of freedom of religion or belief within the wider global context,” says Mr. Leslie.

In 2014, Mr. Raja was one of a small group of elected officials from different countries who together founded the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB). Since then, the organization has grown to an informal network of 130 parliamentarians and legislators from around the world committed to combatting religious persecution and advancing freedom of religion or belief, as defined by Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Among the numerous initiatives of the IPPFoRB have been two international conferences—in New York and Berlin—and some 20 advocacy letters written on behalf of members of the IPPFoRB to governments of countries including Vietnam, Myanmar, North Korea, and Indonesia.

“What makes the work of this organization particularly significant is its ripple effect,” says Mr. Leslie. Lawmakers who attended the international gatherings have since established local chapters of the IPPFoRB in Pakistan, United Kingdom, Nepal, Denmark, Norway, and Brazil, with more local chapters planned.

For Mr. Raja, a Muslim, the scourge of religious intolerance has more than just theoretical significance. Growing up in Norway as a child of immigrant parents from Pakistan, he experienced, firsthand, the impact of racial stereotyping and religious discrimination.

Mr. Raja, who is currently serving a second term in Norway’s parliament, has been recognized for his continuing work to prevent radicalization and violent extremism among minority youth, and for establishing a think tank called Minotenk, which focuses on policy issues related to racial and religious minorities in Norway. In 2010, Mr. Raja was awarded the Freedom of Expression prize from the Fitt Ord Foundation, a Norwegian organization that works to protect and promote freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.

Mr. Raja serves as Deputy Speaker of the Norwegian Parliament, and is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense committee. A lawyer by trade, he was the first Norwegian with a minority background to receive the King’s scholarship to Oxford University and is the author of two books that touch on themes of integration and religious tolerance. Mr. Raja is formerly a member of the Norwegian National Crime Prevention Council and has served as spokesman for the World Islamic Mission.

In receiving the IRLA’s International Award, Mr. Raja will join a distinguished list of past awardees, including: Dr. Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute; Senator Minhea Costoiu of the Republic of Romania and Rector of the University Politehnica of Bucharest; Brian Grim, founding president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation; and Bishop Oslo Gunnar Stålsett of Norway.

The annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C. is sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, the North American Religious Liberty Association, Liberty magazine, and the Seventh-day Adventist world church. More information about the International Religious Liberty Association can be found at

For more information about the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, visit