Freedom of Religion or Belief: International Conference — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:16 am on 28th June 2022.

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Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann 10:16 am, 28th June 2022

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I commend Fiona Bruce for securing this debate. Let me take this opportunity to thank her for her ongoing work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief—I can think of no one better suited to fulfil that role. I thank my hon. Friend Jim Shannon for his ongoing work in the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. He is always a strong voice on this issue.

The freedoms we enjoy here in the United Kingdom came at a high price. For those who fought and died to secure our freedoms, we are forever in their debt. But having received that gift of freedom, we have a duty to do what we can to ensure that others, whoever they may be, who are living in fear under surveillance, threatened with imprisonment or death, are moving towards freedom, not further persecution. On a regular basis I raise that persecution with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Sadly, all too often it follows an attack on or slaughter of believers.

In the short time available, I want to mention two places where I urge the Government to do more, and which I hope will be a focus in the forthcoming ministerial conference. The first is Nigeria. My hon. Friend the Member for Strangford eloquently outlined some of the points already. Open Doors, which we all know does an amazing job as a voice for the persecuted church, reports that in the first three months of 2022, 896 Nigerian civilians were killed in violent attacks, including hundreds of Christians who were murdered because of their faith by extremist Islamic militants.

Nigeria is No. 7 on the Open Doors world watch list. More Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than in the rest of the world combined. The situation in Nigeria for those who follow Jesus is becoming increasingly dangerous, as greater collaboration emerges among Islamic militants. I urge the Foreign Office to do more to highlight what is happening in Nigeria and to work with the international community to address this horrific situation.

Secondly, I want to mention Myanmar. It is a matter of regret, but all too often the reality, that the international community move on to the next crisis and forget the one that went before. Myanmar remains in turmoil. The junta are still in control. With that control they are targeting religious minorities, including many Christians, who are often targeted by the Buddhist national military to suppress opposition. Majority Christian villages are being bombed and churches have been targeted. It is not only Christians who have been persecuted in Myanmar, however. Notably, thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been driven out of the country as well.

While there is so much focus on Ukraine, which is right, let the international community not forget Myanmar. Indeed, let there be a redoubling of efforts to restore democracy in that land, for the protection of all. Let me take the opportunity to mention a church in my constituency, Newmills Presbyterian church, which is doing amazing work with the Myanmar people. The church has a great feeling for those who are caught up in the turmoil.

My speaking time has almost run out, but let me conclude by urging those attending the conference to focus on outcomes and on acting to protect Christians in those places of persecution. Let the conference also focus on ensuring that those who wish to go there to spread the good news of Christ, evangelistically or practically, are safe to do so.