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Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 1:30 pm, 6th February 2020

It is a number I recognise, and if my hon. Friend is able to stay for the rest of the debate, he will hear me talking about that figure in a little while.

In the meantime, we use what data is available from the excellent non-governmental organisations in the field, and—here we are—one of them, the highly regarded Open Doors, estimates on the 2020 world watch list that a staggering 260 million Christians are at risk of high to extreme levels of persecution. Open Doors says that the persecution takes many forms, including the growing use of surveillance technology by Governments to identify and discriminate against Christians.

What have we done so far to help? We have made good progress in implementing the recommendations of the review, both through in-house changes in the Foreign Office and through policy change. For example, we have recognised that our diplomats and officials must fully appreciate the role that religion plays in people’s lives in political and social contexts, and that is why we are working to expand and enhance our religious literacy training. We have also appointed a senior champion for freedom of religion or belief, and we now mark “red Wednesday” in support of persecuted minority groups.

Policy-wise we are also making important changes. Colleagues will be aware of our plan to establish an independent human rights sanctions regime; this will allow us to take quick and effective action against those who commit serious abuses or violations, including against religious minorities, and will, we believe, act as a deterrent to others.