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Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 4:01 pm, 6th February 2020

This has been an excellent debate, and I will shortly do my best to summarise the most memorable contributions.

I am glad that my new colleague, my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton—I am the new one, not him—predicted at the outset that there would be consensus on tackling this rising crisis and on following up on the Bishop of Truro’s important recommendations. However, it would be remiss of me not to say that the Bishop of Truro and other senior members of the Church of England must be careful what they preach for. Although they and we are right to stand up for Christians overseas, those senior members of the Church are entirely wrong in the pastoral guidance that says the only Church-approved sexual relations are within married heterosexual couples, and that those of us who do not fit into that category should be abstinent. That is important to this debate because tolerance on all sides is important and we must practise what we preach. We cannot be intolerant in one respect while asking for tolerance and respect elsewhere.

In this debate we have heard good examples of why tolerance is important, and let us remember that Christianity is often the bellwether of whether a state is repressive. Repressive states tend to choose to repress Christians. We know that Christians in many countries have suffered huge repression. Since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam, the Christian community in Iraq has dwindled by 83%, from 1.5 million Christians to just 250,000.

We have seen the rise in attacks on Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka. I have been to Sri Lanka many times and I have been shocked at the level of intolerance that sometimes prevails—my driver will sometimes refuse to go into Muslim-owned restaurants with me. It is a deep concern that we need to tackle.

The latest nationality laws mean that many Muslims feel their place is not being recognised in India. That affects not only Muslims, but Christians in India. The rise of intolerance and Hindu nationalism is not something we should celebrate.

Although Christians communities have suffered, we must also remember the Rohingya communities in Myanmar, the Yazidis in Iraq and the Uyghur Muslims in China, whom we also heard about. Atheists around the world are also often persecuted. In Iran, there is particular persecution of those of the Baha’i faith, who have not been mentioned today. My constituency has a Baha’i centre and people there would be keen for me to mention them, too. The lesson is that intolerance anywhere—whether it is because someone is a Christian or a Muslim, or because they have no faith or a faith—is intolerable. We should all find it intolerable.

That is why some of the points we have heard today are important, particularly those made by my hon. Friend Ms Brown. Importantly, she summed this up when she said, “If we do not stand up, who are we?” We consider ourselves the mother of all Parliaments, one of the birthplaces of democracy. Who are we, as a country, if we do not stand up for important values? That is why, when Andrew Selous talked about the importance of linking our diplomacy to human rights and freedom of religion, that resonated with the views of Members from across the House.

Jim Shannon talked about his work in the all-party group, for which he should be applauded. I hope the Government will not only continue to respond to the recommendations that he read out, but help start to implement them. Bob Stewart talked particularly importantly about the repressive nature of Saudi Arabia, one of our key allies in the middle east. It might have made some progress, but it is clearly not enough. We have a responsibility to look not only at how we do diplomacy, but at how all of our organs of state interact with those in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the repression there. Ian Paisley mentioned the Colombo attacks and the fact that Christians in this country are often subject to repression. All of those contributions were important.

Sir William Cash mentioned the work of Open Doors, which we all recognise is an important body of work. If there is one positive thing to come out of its report, it is that it shows a reduction in the number of attacks and murders this year, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East. The bulk of that reduction appears to be down to the decline in the number of killings in Nigeria, which is still the deadliest place in the world to be a Christian. Any fall in the death toll there is welcome, but I hope the Minister shares my concern that while we have seen that reduction and a push back in Nigeria, the threat of Boko Haram, on which we heard some extremely moving statements from Fiona Bruce, has spread elsewhere. Boko Haram and other extremist jihadist groups in north-west Africa need to be tackled in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and other countries. While there has been a reduction in one place, we have seen an increase in death and persecution in neighbouring countries. We need to tackle that rapidly and give it some attention. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what work is being done at the international level, particularly with the African Union, to try to get a grip on the situation before every country and Christian in that region faces the same kind of crisis as that in Nigeria today.

We have had a good debate and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for presiding over it.