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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:36 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 3:36 pm, 25th October 2018

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I think it was the hon. Member for Stirling who said that we have to continually make the case for religious freedom, just as we do for women’s rights, gay rights, ethnic minority rights or any other kind of social progress, because history tells us that someone somewhere will always be waiting to take those rights away.

Let me turn to a subject that has not yet been mentioned. The first debate that I secured as an MP was a debate in this Chamber on human rights in Saudi Arabia. My primary reason for securing it was the case of the jailed Saudi writer Raif Badawi, whom the Saudi Government considered to have committed the crime of apostasy. Here is a man who needs freedom from religion, not freedom of religion. His wife and their three beautiful children now have to live in Canada. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and is still in prison, as well as facing a massively unaffordable fine that he will never be able to pay.

I understand that Saudi Arabia is a very tough country and that there are many reformers who have to walk an incredibly fine line—it is never black and white. However, I want to hear more about what the Government are doing about Raif Badawi’s case. We hear constantly that it is being held up at the Supreme Court, yet the human rights organisations that I have talked to cannot see any evidence of that.

Saudi Arabia has been brought into sharp focus recently because of events in its consulate in Turkey. I echo what my party’s Westminster leader, my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford, told the Prime Minister yesterday: the time has come for a fundamental shift in the relationship between this kingdom and that kingdom on the issue of arms sales. This dance with the devil has gone on for too long, and it has to change.

I will bring my remarks to a close soon, because the Minister is the man we are all here to hear from. First, however, I must mention one religious group who have been persecuted more than any other in history: the Jewish people. They have been hunted from every single corner of the world for hundreds of years. It still happens today, even in this country. For the sake of hon. Members who were not present at our debate on antisemitism earlier this year, let me repeat what I said then.

In every city I go to, whether on holiday or on an official visit, I always try to visit the Jewish museum. I love visiting museums in many different cities, but the only museums in which I have to check in my backpack, take off my coat and go through airport-style security are the Jewish museums. It is the same in Paris, Berlin, New York or any other city. Why is that? Why do Jewish schools, even in this country, need security outside them? Why do synagogues around Europe need armed security? Many people think that the persecution of the Jewish people is over, but only a fool would think that.

It is a source of great pride that Scotland is, I think, the only country that has never had an antisemitic law on the statute book. Indeed, the declaration of Arbroath, the oldest medieval text in the world, refers to Jews and Gentiles as equals. That is not to say that everything in Scotland was a picnic; of course it was not. There are positive things in our history, but we should never take them for granted.

I welcome this debate, and I welcome the fact that there is an international day to celebrate freedom of religion or belief. Although I do not have a religion or a religious belief, I will stand with hon. Members who do. We will constantly make the case for people’s freedom to worship or not worship, as they see fit. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.