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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 will come on to mention that very issue on how far we compromise our high moral values in this country in favour of trade deals that we so desperately need. The sheer number of countries, and the rising number of countries, where the persecution of Christians is occurring is an indication of how huge this crisis is.

In the time I have, I would like to ask the Government about one specific country and I hope the Minister will be able to respond at the end of today’s debate. That country, which has already been mentioned, is China. Much recent attention on religious persecution in China has rightly focused on the appalling treatment of the Uyghur Muslim community, but we also know that the Chinese Christian community, estimated to be 90 million people and rising, has faced an escalating wave of repression, interference and mistreatment over the past two years. According to Open Doors, over 5,500 Chinese churches were destroyed, closed down or confiscated during 2019. China has risen to number 23 on its world watch list, up from number 43 in 2018. Anyone under the age of 18 is banned from attending church. The celebration of Christmas in Christian churches has also been banned. Surveillance cameras and facial recognition software has been ordered to be installed in every remaining church, so that authorities can identify all worshippers and listen to the readings and sermons they hear.

Most seriously, what accompanies the repression in China is the routine detention and jailing of worshippers and their pastors under false charges of seeking to subvert state power. I will give one example as an illustration, although I could give hundreds or, indeed, thousands of examples.

In Chengdu province in December 2018, 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested. The church’s pastor, Wang Yi, was charged along with his wife, Jiang Rong, for subversion of state power, all for the temerity of trying to celebrate Christmas together. Thankfully, Jiang Rong was freed last June, but at the end of December, her husband Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison—nine years in prison for a man who led a church because of his faith, who spoke out against forced abortions because of his faith, and who spoke out against curbs on Christians because of his faith. That is the face of persecution, and it is being orchestrated by the second richest nation on the planet—a permanent member of the UN Security Council—which regularly hosts our Prime Ministers and members of our Government.

When the Minister speaks later, will she confirm whether the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary have ever raised the case of Pastor Wang Yi and all the Christians like him who face persecution because of their faith? My fear is that our current Prime Minister is instead walking in the footsteps of his predecessor, who was praised and acclaimed by the Chinese state media after her visit to the country last year for “sidestepping” the issue of human rights and putting the importance of “pragmatic collaboration” with China first. It concluded that

“May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip...For the prime minister, the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the”

United Kingdom

“media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.”

If the former Prime Minister, a devout Christian, could not be expected to raise the cases of Wang Yi and fellow worshippers a month after they were detained, what hope is there that our current trade deal-obsessed Prime Minister is any different? Perhaps the Minister will tell me later that I am wrong. I certainly hope that she will, because if not, what was the point of the Bishop of Truro’s report, and indeed, what is the point of today’s debate?