Commons Debate Backs Persecution Review

Truro report

The government has accepted in full every recommendation made in the Bishop of Truro’s review of Christian persecution. Release International helped provide research for the Report, designed to propel the protection of Christians to the centre stage of UK Government policy.

The Review, into the government’s response to growing Christian persecution, was debated at length and was warmly received by MPs of all parties.

At the close, government minister, Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan announced: ‘The Government has decided to accept every recommendation in full.

‘Christians suffer more religious persecution than any religious group in the world. We should be bold and ensure that the UK’s response to Christian persecution is in proportion to the problem.’

Some highlights of the debate are given below.

You can hear a recording of the full debate here. (n.b. Please be advised that this recording of the entire debate lasts for 1h 50m.)

Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South, proposed the motion:

‘I beg to move that this House deplores the persecution of Christians overseas, supports freedom of religious belief in all countries, welcomes the Bishop of Truro’s Report and calls on the UK government to do more to prevail on governments of other countries where persecution of Christians is tolerated or encouraged, to end that persecution and protect the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief.

‘Around the world, there are horrifying stories of Christians being attacked and often killed, of churches being destroyed and Christians being persecuted and prevented from worshipping. This is happening on an industrial scale in multiple countries. Often, the governments in those countries turn a blind eye, or are even responsible for the persecution themselves.

‘Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Open Doors estimates that 245 million Christians, one in nine around the world, face persecution.

‘We give lots of money to these countries where the governments themselves are turning a blind eye or are actively encouraging or carrying out persecution. We should be attaching conditions to the aid we give, and in extreme cases even withdrawing it entirely.

‘Many of the countries where the persecution of Christians is tolerated or even state-sponsored received direct foreign aid from the United Kingdom. Many of these countries will wish to secure trade and investment deals with us. Many also buy arms from the UK, which requires a UK government export licence.

‘I would like to see the UK government do more to link overseas aid, trade and arms exports to real progress on the persecution of religious minorities.

‘The UK government cannot and must not simply mouth platitudes. It must take real action.’

Susan Elan Jones, MP for Clwyd

‘It is the NGOs we would all wish to thank who have kept these issues going and in our consciousness for years.

‘Freedom of belief is a basic human right. Extreme persecution within five years has gone up from one country to 11 – that is extreme persecution. There’s been a rise in hate speech by state media and by religious leaders.

‘The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are a total obscenity. Since the 1980s crimes under this have increased and they are prejudiced against certain religions. It is a disgrace.’

Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth

Quoting the Bishop of Truro: “Christian persecution, like no other, is a global phenomenon. Christian persecution is a human rights issue and should be seen as such. Freedom of Religion or Belief is perhaps the most fundamental human right, because so many others depend on it. If Freedom of Religion or Belief is removed, so many other rights are put in jeopardy, too.”

Ruth Jones, MP for Newport West

‘This isn’t a western problem. Many of the poorest in our world are Christians and they need our solidarity and support.

‘There are people living in fear, people living with often devastating consequences, who need the British government to stand up for them. Whoever steps into the role of prime minister next week I hope he or she will maintain a focus on these issues. The British government can become and should become a leader on defending freedom of expression, and of faith too.’

She went on to quote William Wilberforce who declared in debate in 1791: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say, you did not know.”

‘Our task in this chamber is to make sure that we don’t look the other way or walk by on the other side either.’

Andrew Griffiths, MP for Burton

Describing himself as a Christian who had recently found faith, he said: ‘We seem to do down Christianity in this country, somewhat. It is important that the Foreign Secretary has put this front and centre in relation to the work of the Foreign Office.

‘When you see that 80 per cent of all religious persecution around the world [is targeted at] Christians, it is important that we as a nation stand up and say that we will not accept this, that we are going to come to the aid of those Christians around the world.

‘We must with all of our voice and all of our might speak out in defence of Christians who are persecuted around the world.

‘It is scary the scale at which Christian persecution around the world is taking place and the speed at which it is increasing. We are seeing this on a global scale around the world and it is only right that Britain should stand up and take its responsibilities seriously. I hope this is just the first step in this government really standing up and taking the persecution of Christians very seriously.

‘Like a stick of Blackpool rock, I want this to run through the middle of everything we do in relation to our foreign office policy, be that aid or trade. We have the levers to change behaviour and to save lives.

‘When people are being victimised, persecuted, murdered, stabbed and bullied simply for reading the Bible and worshipping Jesus Christ, then we have to act.

‘I absolutely believe this is an important step forward in ensuring the safety of Christians around the world.’

Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll & Bute

The UK [should become] a global leader of championing Freedom of Religion or Belief across the world. The UK government must be prepared to impose meaningful sanctions against perpetrators of abuse against Freedom of Religion or Belief.’

Andrew Selous, MP for South West Bedfordshire

‘There are some 245 million Christians at risk of high, very high or extreme persecution, and that is a figure that is rising.

‘We know in China that over a thousand Christians have been detained without trial and unfairly arrested. In Nigeria, we know that 3,731 Christians were killed for their faith.’

He called for an end to discrimination against Christian refugees over the distribution of relief aid.

Dr David Drew, MP for Stroud

‘At the end of the day, what we are talking about here is the mass exodus of Christians from so many places in the world. That is unacceptable and something we as Christians have to do something about.’

Rt Hon Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet

‘Christians have been living in the Middle East since the earliest days of the faith. They have an unbroken presence in the Middle East for 2000 years and yet they are under pressure in Egypt, and Iran and Syria and Lebanon. Some horrific atrocities have been committed against them.

‘The situation is so severe that the very survival of Christianity as a living religion in the Middle East is now in doubt. A century ago, 20 per cent of the population there were Christian. Now, according to this report the figure has fallen to only five per cent. Some of Christianity’s oldest and most enduring communities are facing what the Bishop of Truro called decimation.

‘There are tragic parallels with the situation of the Jewish community whose connection with that region goes back just as far. 800,000 were forced out between 1948 and the 1970s, and my terrible fear is that history is repeating itself.

‘The efforts made to tackle the problem of the attacks on Christians around the world has not matched the scale of the injustice perpetrated. We cannot just stand by and let this continue to happen. We have a responsibility to act.’

Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham

‘Boko Haram been persecuting and killing Christians for over 10 years. In a decade, thousands have died. 20,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed and many more have endured kidnapping, forced conversion and torture.

‘The kidnappings haven’t stopped. According to UNICEF, [kidnapped] children are being used as suicide bombers.

‘Christians across the Middle Belt of Nigeria still live in fear and the violence has spread to neighbouring Niger. Christians in the north of Nigeria, the minority, have been made scapegoats.’

Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay

‘Never before have we had such a comprehensive and well-put together report that really presents a picture of what is taking place around the world. Never again can we say that we don’t know what’s going on in our world today. It is therefore down to us what to do with the information.

‘Eighty per cent of the persecution of people of for their faith around the world goes on against Christians.

‘The persecution of Christians can be a bellwether in the context of the broader persecution of other faiths. How a country behaves, with regard to Christians in that country, is a test of how other religious minorities would also be treated, and that’s why believe it’s important that the Foreign Office through this report has chosen to focus on the persecution against Christians around the world.

‘We must never take for granted the freedom that we have in this country.’

Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford

‘In the last year, a hundred thousand Christians will be murdered because of their faith, 200 million will be persecuted because their faith and 2 billion will live in an endangered neighbourhood. That’s the magnitude of this issue.’

Breaking down in tears, Mr Shannon said: ‘It is our job to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I commend the charities Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors, Release International, Barnabas Trust and Aid to the Church in Chains for all that they have done.’

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton

‘I welcome the report and commended it, especially for the depth of research in it. I welcome the recommendation that the government should introduce mechanisms to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide.’

Ross Thomson, MP for Aberdeen South

‘Leaving Christians overseas vulnerable to persecution would be a gross abdication of the global responsibilities this country has worked ceaselessly to uphold over many years.

‘The very birthplace of Christianity is under threat. Christians in countries across the Middle East find themselves driven from their homes, imprisoned and tortured or killed on the basis of the faith that they hold or the text that they follow.

‘The presence of Christianity in more parts of the world faces nothing short of a complete extinction while governments fail to provide a bulwark to the tide of attacks against Christianity.

‘Christians across the world with repressive governments or who are the target of militant groups take little comfort from warm words. We can do more and we must do more to help bring the persecution of Christians to an end.

‘The challenge that faces all of us in ending the discrimination and violence against Christians is a monumental one. But the Truro Report does leave me optimistic for the future of religious relations.’

Stephen Kerr, MP for Stirling

‘The scale of the persecution of Christians is truly shocking and horrific. No one should be persecuted because of how or who they worship. Every person should have the basic human right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Freedom of Religion or Belief should become the underpinning of the operation of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

‘I endorse the need for a Diplomatic Code. Diplomats need a clear direction in response to the persecution of Christians.

‘I feel ashamed that so many Christians are being persecuted throughout the world and we have done so little to stop it or even to speak out about it.

‘Christian persecution accounts for 80 per cent of all religious persecution in the world. And our country must act. We have a special responsibility, a moral responsibility because of the privileged status we have in the world.

‘Renewing our focus on Christian persecution is actually a way of expressing our concern for all minorities who find themselves under pressure, and ignoring Christian persecution may well ignore other forms of oppression as well.

‘May I make a plea to the Minister that we use our soft power in order to exercise as much influence as we can around the world in respect to speaking up for Christians.

‘I think it’s high time that we escalated the role of the Prime Minister’s Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. We need to follow the American example and have a dedicated Ambassador at Large for freedom of religion and belief.’

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East

‘It’s important that the next Foreign Secretary is as committed to this as the current office holder.

‘The persecution of Christians is often ignored and given less attention. And that is alarming, when you consider the sheer scale of the persecution for those of us who follow Jesus Christ.

‘We know that Christianity is the most persecuted religion the world. Indeed, in 2006, the Pew Research Centre found the Christians were persecuted in 144 countries across the world. A quarter of a billion Christians in the top 50 countries for persecution still suffer intolerable levels of persecution and risk simply for following Jesus Christ.

‘[Increasing] persecution in India can be directly attributed to Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist movement. We are still hearing of prayer meetings being disrupted by Modi’s thugs and Christians been beaten simply for gathering to study God’s word and to pray.

‘In Pakistan, I’m reminded of those paying the price twice, firstly for being female, secondly for having a different faith. Women are particularly vulnerable to abduction, rape and forced marriage. It’s estimated that 700 girls are vulnerable to that every single year.’

Liz McInnis, MP for Heywood and Middleton

‘Genuine action on the persecution of Christians is long overdue. Many have been trying to draw the world’s attention to the deeply worrying scale of Christian persecution for many, many years. Like other members I was shocked to hear that 80 per cent of religious persecution globally is against Christians.

‘Clearly, there is a serious problem here that needs urgent action from governments. Persecution of Christians often goes hand in hand with the persecution of other religious groups and minorities. In India, the rise of Hindu nationalism affects millions of Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

‘In Pakistan, the case of Asia Bibi was particularly concerning. Whilst we are relieved that Asia and her family have settled in Canada, it was a real shame that our government could not confirm at the time that they would offer her asylum in the UK.’

And she continued: ‘Can we clarify whether it was correct that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office vetoed the suggestion that Asia should be allowed to move to the UK?’

Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State, MP for Rutland and Melton

‘The Government has decided to accept every recommendation in full.’

Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South

‘It is fantastic news is to hear that the government is accepting all the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s report.

‘It is so important that all of us in this House and in Government take responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights around the world. Just because atrocities are happening across the oceans does not make them any less serious.

‘We should never pass by on the other side, and I hope this afternoon’s debate will provide a motivation to the government to redouble its efforts, not just in adopting the recommendations in the report, but going further and looking at the ways we can use aid and trade and other tools to protect the rights of religious minorities and particularly Christians around the world where persecution occurs.’

MPs passed the motion unanimously.