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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:37 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:37 pm, 25th October 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. It is also a pleasure to follow Kevin Foster. I thank Jim Shannon for securing this incredibly important debate and for his tireless campaign for all those around the world who are persecuted because of their faith.

As the proud chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, my contribution will focus largely on the persecution of the Ahmadis. One of the largest mosques in western Europe is on the border of my constituency. As several hon. Members have said, the community identifies as Muslim but does not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind. That belief has led to widespread persecution across the world, and, I am afraid to say, even in the UK, as has been mentioned. I will take hon. Members on a global tour, from Indonesia to Islamabad, Bangkok to Burundi, and describe the day-to-day reality faced by the community.

In Algeria, 280 Ahmadi Muslims have been arrested on the grounds of their faith in the last two years alone. In Burundi, 13 young Ahmadis were arrested earlier this year while attending a religious education class. In Egypt, the Interior Minister started the year by issuing arrest warrants for at least 25 Ahmadis, including the publications secretary for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Ahmadis are the only international religious group denied the right to register as a religious community. In Indonesia, Ahmadiyya Muslim is not even an authorised religion.

In Pakistan, as we have heard, it is a criminal offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, name their place of worship a mosque or even say the Islamic greeting. Hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered in Pakistan. There is a separate electoral register that effectively denies them the right to vote. Even the grave of a Nobel laureate, Professor Abdus Salam, has been desecrated, to remove the word “Muslim”.

Finally, I turn to Thailand, where this month the Government have arrested 113 Ahmadiyya Muslim refugees amid a new crackdown on immigration, putting them at risk of deportation back to Pakistan, despite the fact that those arrested included Ahmadis who have been granted resettlement in Thailand.

Will the Minister take away from today’s debate the urgent need to raise the case of those Ahmadiyya Muslims with the Thai Government, and can he establish precisely what measures are being taken to ensure that such global hatred is prevented from reoccurring? I ask that final question because although I have taken Members on a global tour, the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community has now spread to the UK.

It was referred to earlier, but I also give the example of the murder of an Ahmadiyya shopkeeper, Asad Shah, in Glasgow. I could also cite the case of the Waltham Forest communities forum, which actively stopped an Ahmadiyya Muslim from being re-elected, stating that he could not be a representative of Islam. There is an undercurrent of hostility, in the form of posters calling for a boycott of Ahmadiyya businesses. The former national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association has even described Ahmadiyya posters being torn down on campuses right across the country.

Such a scourge of extremism is a stain on the freedom of religion that we rightly and proudly celebrate here in the UK. In recent months our all-party parliamentary group has held a five-part inquiry that has heard evidence from around the world and from across the UK. It is the first ever parliamentary inquiry of its kind. The testimonies given were harrowing, conveying the scale of the hatred faced by Ahmadis far more starkly than any facts or figures could indicate. The APPG is compiling the evidence into a report and I will take this opportunity to invite the Minister and all Members here today to its launch, which we expect to take place at the beginning of the new year.

We cannot let such widespread persecution go unchallenged. As an MP, I have a duty to stand up to it on behalf of my constituents; as a Chamber, we have a duty to eradicate it from our country; and as a country, the Government have a duty to challenge it globally, wherever and whenever it is allowed to flourish.