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Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:40 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence) 1:40 pm, 6th February 2020

I am not sure it is for me to comment on whether Christian belief should be a factor in the Labour leadership contest. I think a strong set of moral values, one of which is a strong set of Christian values, is very important in any leadership contest and I know that all the candidates will have those strong moral values.

Whether it is the Jews in Portland Oregon, Muslims in Myanmar and New Zealand or Christians in Nigeria and Pakistan, we all believe that an attack on people of any faith is an attack on people of all faiths. I am sure that that will be the consensus we reach at the end of this debate. However, we must never mistake the consensus that we establish in this House for attitudes in our country as a whole. As much as we might reassure ourselves that Britain is a tolerant society where such prejudice and attacks do not occur, we know, sadly, that that is utterly wrong, whether it is the terrible scourge of antisemitism, which poisons online debate and forces the Jewish community in this country to post guards around synagogues and Jewish schools; the appalling rise in Islamophobia and attacks on our Muslim population in recent years, unfortunately whipped up by the comments of some politicians and media commentators; or, indeed, the attacks by sick-minded Jihadists with bombs, guns, vehicles and knives on innocent crowds of people in our country who they have dubbed as unbelievers or kafirs. This is an issue we know we have to confront domestically.

Our task today, of course, is primarily to discuss how and where it needs to be tackled abroad, specifically in relation to the persecution of Christians. We are once again, as has been mentioned, indebted to the Open Doors organisation for its latest report on the scale of the issue, to which the Minister referred in her speech. It is not just the scale of the issue now, but the extent to which it has risen in recent years that should give us all real cause for concern. The report found yet again that the persecution of Christians is becoming both more widespread and more serious. Of the 50 countries on the Open Doors annual watch list, 45 of them are places where Christians were rated as experiencing very high or extreme levels of persecution in 2019, double the number of countries that were given that rating in 2014, just five years previously. That increase means that in 2019 approximately 260 million Christians across the world were at risk of high, very high and extreme levels of persecution, up from 245 million in 2018 and 215 million in 2017—shockingly high levels and a 20% increase in the number of Christians at the highest levels of risk in the space of just two years.

Open Doors also found that another 50 million Christians are facing high levels of persecution in a further 23 countries outside the top 50 on its watch list The one small consolation, if we can call it that, from the Open Doors report is that the overall death toll from persecution fell last year from more than 4,300 in 2018 to just under 3,000 —again, a shockingly high number. The number of deaths is still shocking and unacceptable.