Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 6th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:18 pm, 6th February 2020

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken before me, and those who will follow afterwards, for their contributions. It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in her place. We had a discussion this week about this debate. We thank her for her contribution, and the shadow Minister as well. The civil servants never get a mention, but they are in the Box over there. We have met them on a number of occasions. I want to thank them for their responsiveness to us as MPs but also for helping the Minister in the job that is done.

This debate is very important and also very timely, as it falls the day after the inaugural meeting of this Parliament’s all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief—FoRB—and the APPG for the Pakistani minorities. That took place just yesterday—we did both at the same time. I thank the Members who have contributed to those groups and who attended the AGM. We speak up for those with Christian faith, those with other faiths and those with no faith—it is important to put that on the record. This debate is clearly about the persecution of Christians. I am a Christian and I am here to speak for that faith, but we also speak out for those of all faiths, because they have a right to worship God. Our God is a god of love, and we want to put that on the record.

For Christians, the world is becoming more and more dangerous. Christians are in a fight for survival, and many of us are aware of that. I was particularly interested in this issue when I came to the House, along with other Members—Fiona Bruce in particular—and we have come together to work on it. I have had the privilege to chair the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief for several years. It is encouraging to see the ever-increasing parliamentary appetite to engage on this issue. When the group started in 2013, it had roughly 30 or 40 members, and now it has well over 100. It was heartening to see so many Members join the meeting yesterday, and it is encouraging that today’s debate is mirrored by a discussion in the other place about freedom of religion or belief and international development.

The APPG made the following recommendations in November 2019: first, that Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts further implement the FCO FoRB toolkit as a normal part of their work; secondly, that the FCO in London continues to encourage, support and monitor posts’ implementation of the FCO FoRB toolkit’s recommendations; thirdly, that, building on the welcome appointment of a special envoy for freedom of religion or belief by two successive Prime Ministers, that post be made permanent; fourthly, that the commitment that the international roving ambassador for human rights will work with the special envoy for freedom of religion or belief is expressed in visible public activity at the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, as well as elsewhere, including with FCO posts worldwide; and fifthly, that FCO posts actively engage with the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief by proactively seeking ways to concretely advance freedom of religion and belief in country, as well as monitoring the special envoy’s work on social media. Those recommendations are very important.

Thousands of Christians will be murdered for their faith this year. Some 200 million will be persecuted for their faith, and 2 billion live in endangered neighbourhoods. Figures obtained from the Library and Open Doors indicate that some 83% of the world’s Christian population is threatened or persecuted. I had the privilege, as I think everyone speaking in the debate did, to attend the launch of the Open Doors world watch list a few weeks ago, where I learned that 260 million Christians live in countries where they are at a risk of high, very high or extreme levels of persecution. That important event reminded us all of the vital need to protect marginalised Christian communities around the world. That is why I am grateful that the Government are maintaining their commitment to implement the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s report on the FCO’s work to support persecuted Christians.

Today is an opportunity to do so, but I wonder whether we in this House speak out as much as we should on behalf of Christians being persecuted across the world and whether our efforts match the seriousness of the problems. I commend the Government for the work they have done so far and encourage them to focus on the recommendations that have the biggest practical impact, such as improving data collection and training, making better use of the FCO FoRB toolkit, increasing funding for FoRB projects and imposing sanctions on FoRB violators.