Persecution of Christians Overseas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:01 pm, 18th July 2019

I follow on from my dear friend Andrew Selous in giving a big thank you to the Foreign Office. I also thank the Bishop of Truro for conducting this investigation, and the hon. Members who managed to get this debate. Of all the excellent organisations that have been name-checked, I particularly praise Christian Solidarity Worldwide. I have made two visits abroad with it. The first was to Nigeria, where I witnessed the words of the Bishop of Jos, whose wife was raped by extremists. He gave a graphic account of what things are like in northern Nigeria.

I also visited Pakistan, where I met the inestimable Shahbaz Bhatti, who was the Minister for Minorities. He was slaughtered for his beliefs. I hope that in due course the Catholic Church will recognise what that wonderful man has done. Pakistan is an interesting country; it has people of all persuasions in its Government, but Shahbaz always knew that he took the risk of losing his life, though he carried on nevertheless.

I spend a lot of time worrying about Sudan. It is obvious what is going on there. I got very interested in it because of the religious divide, but when I learned more about the situation, I found that it is not just Muslims against Christians; Bob Stewart talked about Christians sometimes fighting Christians, and sadly that happens in southern Sudan. Also, religion is used as a franchise, and people of extreme views use those views to maintain power. I ask the Government to keep a very close eye on the Christians who remain in the north in Sudan, of whom there are many millions, and to try to bring peace to the south.

In the two minutes remaining to me, I will concentrate on a couple of points in the Bishop’s report that are worthy of emphasis. First, it is very important that our embassies and those who advocate on behalf of the British Government recognise the importance of freedom of religious belief, are properly trained, and look out for it. That is an important recommendation from the Bishop, and I hope that the Minister will take it up. Often there are other connected issues, such as sexuality and gender. It is important that we tease away what may be a veneer of religion and look below the surface.

At the end of the day, we are talking about the mass exodus of Christians from many places in the world. That is unacceptable and we as Christians have to do something about it. We must talk about it in this place and represent those communities. Of course, this is not just about Christians. The Ahmadis have already been mentioned, and the Baha’is are another religious group who are heavily discriminated against in many parts of the world.

In conclusion, the one blemish—I was sad about this —is that the Bishop was called in by the Israeli ambassador to be admonished about the fact that he chose to mention Israel and Palestine as a reason why Christians have left the middle east. It is important that we stand with the Bishop and make it clear that, whatever the discrimination, those who may not be openly discriminatory are still, none the less, covertly allowing such things to go on. We should stand with the Bishop in what he has said and done, and in how we follow up on it.