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Iranian Christian wins top award for religious freedom animation

by Tola Mbakwe

An Iranian-born animator has won a top prize for her film about the importance of freedom of religion.

Maral Karaee's District 18 tells the story of a little girl who lives in a world where people, animals of object of different colours - red, blue, green and yellow - are not allowed to mix.

It won the grand prize in the animation category in the short film competition at the Empower Women Media and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.

When the girl accidentally breaks the rules, she is fired from her job and made an outcast. It is at this point she discovers the Utopian land of District 18, where all four colours mix. 

Karaee told Premier Christian News she got her inspiration for the video from Article 18 of the UN Charter for Human Rights.

"I wanted to show diversity, tolerance, and freedom of belief and talk. So the first thing came to my mind was that I can show this by primary colours."

The topic of freedom of religion is very personal for Karee.  She converted to Christianity a few years after she left Iran at the age of 19, and the decision still had implications for her life, almost 20 years later: "I can't go back to my country, according to the Iranian Government I have committed a crime," she said. 

She added: "I come from a country that freedom of belief and thought is very much restricted. You are not allowed to easily change or choose whatever you want to believe in. So you are born a Muslim, grow up as a Muslim and you have to stay a Muslim. I grew up with that mentality and I lived in fear of God and punishment. That's why it's very important for me to show these kind of topics."

Although Karaee left Iran as a teenager, her experience of life growing up in Iran is a clear influence. She follows developments in Iran closely, along with her husband who helps run an Open Doors partner organisation called Article 18, which monitors human and religious rights in Iran.

"Persecution is on the rise. A lot of our brothers and sisters are in jail and the Christian community is under a lot of pressure," she said. 
The Utopian vision of District 18 in Iran may be a long way off, but Karaee said she hopes her animation will make people think twice about their views on freedom of religion. 

"I hope that people at least start to think that we need to have tolerance towards each other and we need to accept other people, no matter what kind of belief or religion they come from," she said. It's important to put all the prejudices and judgments away and to accept each other. That's how we can have peace in societies."

Iran is rated as number 9 on Open Doors' Work Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.  

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