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Freedom of Religion or Belief — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:30 pm, 12th March 2020

I am deeply indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his work. This is not a self-congratulation society, but I greatly appreciate what he does and the role that he plays, and the energy, interest and commitment that he shows. We are pleased that he is in place and we hope that there will be a fruitful conclusion to his endeavours and those of the Government.

My next question is: will the UK Government focus more or most of its international development aid on Nigeria to assist the victims and protect the vulnerable from Nigeria’s insecurity crisis? Will they use a large percentage of their aid budget to Nigeria to provide more direct assistance to internally displaced persons who live in poor conditions and to enhance security provision for vulnerable communities and people, including the Christian communities in the north-east and middle belt where they have been particularly targeted, by the Nigerian Government’s own admission?

Finally, given the Prime Minister’s call for increased post-Brexit trade and investments in Nigeria, in which the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, John Howell, will be interested, what security advice and warnings are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Trade offering to British investors? Those are all important issues.

In my role as chair of the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief, I campaign on behalf of all who are persecuted, not just Christians, because I am a Christian and I believe that my God loves everyone. That is why I, and all hon. Members present, believe that it is our duty to speak out not only for those of Christian faith, but for people of any faith and of course, just as important, those who do not profess a faith at all. That is why I now turn to the persecution that other groups, including the non-religious, are facing around the world.

Atheists, agnostics and other non-religious people often face extreme violations of FORB. Indeed, in Saudi Arabia, that great ally of the United Kingdom—questions were asked about that relationship in the Chamber today—atheism is considered a criminal offence, punishable by death. In the eyes of the Saudi Government, therefore, many British people, including some in this House, are the worst criminals and not deserving of life.

According to “The Freedom of Thought Report” published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union,

“even on the most conservative estimates, there are untold millions of de facto humanists, atheists and otherwise religiously unaffiliated people living in countries where they face discrimination or outright persecution, both in society and at the hands of the state. In the most extreme cases, the non-religious are told that…to promote humanist values…is a kind of criminal attack on culture.”

Again, that is simply unacceptable.