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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 28th June 2022.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:31 am, 28th June 2022

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I have been in this place for 25 years and I have not come across any colleagues, from any part of this House, who believe in religious persecution and who do not try to lead by example. That is really important. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and I am sure the Minister will reply to the points directed at her.

When we see persecution still rife across the world, it is more important than ever that we, as parliamentarians from all the sides of the House, reaffirm our commitment to the values and principles set out in the 2021 G7 summit communiqué, which specifically referenced freedom of religion or belief for the first time. As my hon. Friend Afzal Khan pointed out, we have our own problems at home, with several forms of racism throughout society—whether it is antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other prejudice—but freedom of religion or belief must also be at the heart of our foreign policy. Where we are able to empower and promote individual and collective freedoms, we must do so. That is vital to international peace and stability, as so many hon. Members have pointed out.

It is just as important that we challenge those who choose to persecute others on the basis of their belief. As we have heard this morning, almost every religion around the world has been persecuted or subject to repression as a result of an individual’s faith, but we must not forget the people who are being persecuted for being non-believers, as many Members have mentioned. The fact that at least 13 countries still have the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy is extremely worrying, but in many more countries people have been murdered for simply choosing not to believe. At least 83 countries have blasphemy laws more generally, with 30 countries classified by the Freedom of Thought Report as guilty of grave violations against the non-religious. This must be challenged in the strongest possible terms by the international community.

Just last week, we had the deeply disturbing news that the US Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. As parliamentarians who believe in a free and equal society, we must make it clear that that ruling was a devastating setback for women’s rights in the United States. The right of women to make their own decisions about their own bodies is a fundamental human right too, and it should not be interfered with in the name of faith or religion. Those who have faith, but also believe that access to abortion is a right that should be protected, will now be in an extremely difficult position and may be forced to choose between their faith and their political belief.