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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:42 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 2:42 pm, 25th October 2018

My hon. Friend puts it so well. He and I have seen that that is the case in many countries we have visited with the International Development Committee.

One of those countries is Nepal, where we met Christians who were greatly concerned—I am going back now three or four years—about restrictions on their freedom in that country. I thank the Minister, because I know that he has taken very seriously the concerns that we have expressed many times about such restrictions in Nepal. Actually, they are now far worse than they were even when we visited the country a few years ago. He knows much about the situation in Nepal, so I ask him once again to urge the Government of Nepal to repeal or amend sections 155 to 159 of the country’s new penal code. That code, which came into force just in August, severely restricts freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. I have met people from Nepal who are now seriously concerned about being imprisoned as a result of speaking about their own faith in their own homes. That cannot be right.

[Steve McCabe in the Chair]

I also ask the Minister to call on the Government of Nepal to amend its constitution. My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy mentioned constitutions being used to restrict freedom of belief. Again, the Government of Nepal have put in place elements of the constitution that are deeply concerning. Specifically, I ask the Minister to press the Government of Nepal to remove from the constitution any reference to restrictions on conversion, bringing it into line with the country’s obligations under article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights.

I will turn briefly to another matter: the persecution of Falun Gong in China. I commend the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston on her superb speech. She said so much to express the horror and incredulity that many of us felt when we heard about forced organ harvesting. It is almost beyond belief to hear reports that a Government are incarcerating people because of their beliefs, taking their blood and DNA samples, and then—this would appear to be the case, which is why the Minister must look into it—there is a request, almost to order, for an organ for transplant. If that is correct, it is horrendous. Of course, when the organs are removed, the victims die.

I thank the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston for mentioning the report on that issue that the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission produced over two years ago. I do not like to go away from these events without presenting the Minister with something, so I handily have a copy of the report, which I will pass to him if he has not seen it. I ask that he acts on all the requests made by the hon. Lady. I ask that he raises the issue with the Chinese delegation at the next human rights dialogue with China, and asks why the practice appears to be continuing, despite the Chinese authorities’ announcement of a full transition to voluntary donations as long ago as 2015. If that is the case, let the Chinese authorities say so, because at the moment they are not confirming that.

I will now turn to a country that so far has not been mentioned: Russia. I will take this opportunity to pass to the Minister the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s latest report, launched just this Tuesday—it is on our website,—on human rights in Russia today. Time prohibits me from going into detail, but I hope he will read the report, particularly the several sections that are pertinent to today’s debate. Those sections deal with restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, assembly, association, and religion or belief. It is concerning to note how many religious groups other than the Russian Orthodox Church now face increasing restrictions in Russia.

The commission received detailed submissions from the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses regarding the recent treatment of its members in Russia. In April, the Russian Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organisation. Those who continue to practise their faith—of whom there are 170,000—risk being prosecuted and jailed for up to 10 years. That is not just theory; it is happening. Evidence of widespread, specific cases of arrest, search, and seizure for interrogation and detention of Jehovah’s Witnesses is detailed in the report. I would be grateful if the Minister could raise those concerns with his Russian counterparts, or ask his colleagues to do so, when the opportunity arises. I hope that will be soon, because the report contains the names of over 100 individual prisoners who are currently in detention, specifically in connection with their rights to freedom of religion or belief. We ask the Minister to ensure that those names are drawn to the attention of the Russian authorities. They have come to our commission from the Memorial human rights centre.