International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:30 pm, 25th October 2018

That is a salient reminder for us all. We have one in the Freedom of Religious Belief office here. I am regularly in contact with Open Doors and many of the other organisations—Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and the Barnabas Fund—and our churches all have them as well. The hon. Gentleman will know this, but every morning in my and other people’s prayer times, when we go around the countries of the world, there are 50 or 60 countries where persecution is rife. That is always a reminder to me at the beginning of the day of the freedom that I we have here, and that others do not. He is right and I thank him for his intervention.

We had the ISIS-inspired attack in Madhya Pradesh in India, in which 10 people were killed. For the benefit of both India and its potential for a stable long-term relationship with the UK, we must take a stand against growing human rights violations there. I hope that the Minister can work with the Indian Government at least to make them aware that we are concerned.

I will speak quickly about Nepal. As the Minister knows, the Nepalese penal code 2017 contains problematic provisions that criminalise religious conversion and “hurting religious sentiment”. Those words give the Government power to do a lot of things to persecute religious minorities. We have had reports of 20 Christians being arrested and four churches being burnt down. Where does this stop? The Nepalese Government receives some DFID funding and gets support from our Government. The laws are insensitive to the feelings of religious minorities and their positions, and we believe that the legislation relating to criminal liability for doctors, and the issue of arrest warrants, is completely irrational and illegal. There is an excellent opportunity for the UK to suggest that Nepal reconsiders its problematic provisions in order to stay in line with its obligations as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Members of the Human Rights Council must adhere to its principles.

Turkey has become a difficult country. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton referred to journalists, and Turkey’s clampdown on journalists and the media has been atrocious. Pakistan has been asked to send 230 Turkish teachers back to Turkey to make them accountable and to have their rights taken away. I have written to the Minister suggesting that we do all we can to ensure that the Turkish Government cannot do that. An early-day motion in the House this week also refers to that.