An Iranian Christian who made an animation highlighting the importance of religious freedom has scooped a top prize for her work.
“District 18”, by Maral Karaee, won the Grand Prize in the Animation category of the Short Film Competition run by Empower Women Media and the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.
The animation tells the story of a girl who lives in a world where people of different colours – red, blue, green and yellow – are not allowed to mix.
When she accidentally breaks the rules, she finds herself cast out from society – until she discovers the utopian world of “District 18”, where all four colours mix.
Maral converted to Christianity at the age of 19, after leaving Iran as a teenager. Nearly two decades later, she still feels like an outcast from her country as she is unable to return because of her faith.
“I can’t go back to my country, according to the Iranian Government I have committed a crime,” she told Open Doors.
Reflecting on her experience of life in Iran, it is fear that stands out in her memories.
“In Iran you are born a Muslim, live as a Muslim and die a Muslim,” she says. “I grew up with that mentality and I lived in fear of God and punishment.”
By contrast, her animation is inspired by the freedom espoused in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This section of the charter declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
It is also the inspiration for the NGO her husband works for, Article 18, a sister organisation of Open Doors that is monitoring human and religious rights in Iran.
Maral adds: “Everyone should be able to choose or change their religion or belief at any time. It’s OK to think that what you believe is the truth, but you can’t force it on others.”
While she has been able to leave Iran and start a new life in the West, her thoughts are always with fellow Christians 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.