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    An Iranian Christian has won the top prize for her animation on religious freedom.

    Maral Karaee, founder of 1001World Multimedia Productions, created a short film called “District 18,” a story about a young woman who lives in a world where segregation is enforced. Different colors (red, blue, yellow, and green) of people, animals, money, and even food are not allowed to mix.

    I wanted to show diversity, tolerance, and freedom of belief and talk. —Maral Karaee, Iranian Christian animator

    When the girl accidentally breaks the rules, she was forced to live as an outcast. This is when she finds a Utopian society, District 18, where everyone is welcome and where all four colors are allowed to mix harmoniously.

    The short film won the grand prize in the Animation category of the Short Film Competition, run by Empower Women Media and the Religious Freedom and Business Association.

    Karaee revealed that the “18” was inspired by Article 18 of the UN Charter for Human Rights. Article 18 states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

    Karaee told Premier Christian News, “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 colors.”

    The Iranian animator has a personal experience in religious persecution. She left Iran when she was 19 years old and moved to Europe to become a Christian. “I can’t go back to my country, according to the Iranian Government I have committed a crime,” she said.

    Her life in Iran influenced her film “District 18.” Just as the primary colors in her film cannot mix, she said, “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.”

    Karaee warned of the escalating violence against Christians in different countries. “A lot of our brothers and sisters are in jail and the Christian community is under a lot of pressure.”

    Iran is number 9 in Open Doors’ World Watch List, an annual ranking of 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Christians in Iran are banned from proselytizing and producing religious literature, even their professional opportunities are restricted.

    “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,” Karaee 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.”