State Department Honors NED Partners with International Religious Freedom Award

Deputy Secretary Richard Verma poses with Ambassador Rashad Hussain and 2023 recipients of the Secretary’s International Religious Freedom Awards during the 2023 International Religious Freedom Awards ceremony at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2024. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.
Peter Jacob and Deputy Secretary Verma at the International Religious Freedom award ceremony

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Thursday Jan 18th, the State Department honored two partners of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) and the Tibet Action Institute (TAI)—with the International Religious Freedom Award. The award honors several extraordinary champions of human rights and religious freedom from around the world. The ceremony coincided with the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act becoming law, a significant milestone that emphasized upholding religious freedom as a key aspect of supporting democracy abroad.

“Religious freedom is fundamental to any healthy democracy. It is a way to give people ownership over their lives, families, and choices. A way to keep citizens invested in open and free and safe societies–in the notion that, by our votes or by our daily decisions, we all deserve the right to determine our own destiny,” said Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and former NED Board Member Richard Verma.

Peter Jacob of the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) was recognized for his tireless work advocating for the constitutional rights of marginalized religious minority communities in Pakistan. Under his leadership, CSJ has engaged in policy dialogue with government institutions on issues of religious tolerance and freedom and compiled the most comprehensive database of arrest and prosecution under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

NED staff and members of the International Campaign for Tibet with honoree Lhadon Tethong (center). Photo courtesy of the International Campaign for Tibet

Lhadon Tethong of Tibet Action Institute (TAI) leads a team of technologists and human rights advocates in developing and advancing communication technologies, nonviolent strategies, and innovative training programs for Tibetans and members of other groups facing repression by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Tethong was recognized for her work to shed light on how the PRC interferes with the freedom of religion of Tibetan Buddhists and promoting respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Tibetans.

Other IRF honorees included extraordinary leaders of civil society from New Zealand, Nigeria, Iraq, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Lithuania.

The corrosion of religious freedom is an often-overlooked aspect in the global trend of democratic backsliding in the past decade. Civil society leaders like Lhadon Tethong, Peter Jacob, and the other honorees are at the forefront of upholding this aspect of democratic rightsoften at great personal risk. NED is proud to play a supporting role in their fight.


The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is an independent, nonprofit, grant-making foundation dedicated to the development and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. With an annual appropriation from Congress, NED funds more than 2,000 grants in over 100 countries. NED’s grants program is augmented by the International Forum for Democratic Studiesthe Reagan-Fascell Fellowships Program; the World Movement for Democracy; and the Center for International Media Assistance.

NED’s approach draws on support from the two leading political parties, business, and labor. NED’s core institutes include: the Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and the Solidarity Center.


Christine Bednarz, Director of Communications,; +1-202-200-6872