In the brief time I have available, I will compliment Open Doors on its work. The necessity for this debate is shown by an attack on the Emmanuel Christian College, which Open Doors has been supporting, that took place on 14 May in South Sudan, where 10 people, including five children, were killed. That is a sad reminder of the risks people face to do what many of us take for granted in our daily lives, which is to declare our Christian faith, to go to church and to wish to share that faith with others.
This is not just about the state actors—the traditional idea of a Government oppressing their people—but the non-state actors, such as Daesh, which have brought so much terror to the middle east and, in particular, to Christian families there. The key part is about stopping the persecution not just of Christians, but of people who freely choose which faith they have, or who have no faith.
All Christians should stand for that fundamental right. Member for Croydon South Chris Philp. I will be brief and talk about one person in China: Gao Zhisheng, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who is best known for his work defending Christians, Falun Gong adherents and other vulnerable social groups. He is believed to have been forcibly disappeared by the authorities since August as a result of his work on sensitive cases and his open letters to Chinese political leaders.
Gao was detained and tortured numerous times before being convicted of inciting to subvert state power. He was sentenced to three years in prison and was released on 7 August with serious health problems. He was disappeared again in August and I met his daughter not long after being elected.
My only ask is that the Minister makes direct representations to the Chinese authorities to revise all regulations and legislation pertaining to religion to ensure that they align with international standards on freedom of religion or belief, as set out in article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights, in consultation with religious communities and legal experts.
That is my ask. The Minister should get on with it. I place on record my huge respect for people of all faiths who are persecuted around the world for their faith and, in the context of this debate, particularly for Christians who face horrific circumstances that we in this country can only imagine. We honour their dignity and courage. Persecution is not always about violence and killing people. It often takes more subtle forms where Christians and people of other faiths are excluded from certain parts of society and from obtaining certain jobs—in some countries they cannot work in the public sector—and are perhaps put under surveillance.
We should be conscious of all forms of persecution that Christians face around the world, not just the most extreme. To echo other hon. Members, our Government should do more to use the influence they have, particularly through the Commonwealth and our overseas aid budget, to ensure that the rights and freedoms of Christians around the world are protected and to challenge countries where that is not the case.
Like other hon. Members, I place on record my huge respect for Open Doors and the incredible work that it has done over decades to raise the issue of the persecuted Church around the world and to support persecuted Christians. It is a sad reality that despite the organisation existing for more than 50 years, its work is more needed in our world today than ever before. We should support everything that it and others do to support the persecuted Church. I was lucky to be invited when my son, Zachariah, was three weeks old.
I went with my wife and we celebrated our first mass with the Copts there. We were so welcomed. Although Coptic Christians in my constituency and across the UK can freely worship without persecution for their beliefs, the same cannot be said for those in Egypt and elsewhere. Many will remember that a Coptic church just south of Cairo was targeted in a horrific terror attack in December, which took the lives of 10 people, including the perpetrator. That same day, an electronics shop owned by Copts in nearby Helwan was also attacked, leaving another two people dead.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry confirmed that those attacks were by Daesh. Estimates vary as to how many Copts there are worldwide, but it is believed that there are up to 20 million. Of those, at least 15 million reside in Egypt. There have been many examples of Copts, especially women and girls, being kidnapped, forced to marry and converted.
That needs to stop. I agree with hon. Members who have said that where Governments are struggling to keep a lid on extremism and protect Christians, we must do all we can to help them in word and deed. The centre and south of Nigeria are tolerant places where faiths live side by side in happiness. The problem comes in the north and north-east of the country, where there is a great deal of radical Islamism. Christians are caught in the crossfire there between ethnic or illegal groups as they pursue their vendettas against other groups. Nigeria did not stand by, however, after an attack on a Christian church.
The President was summoned to Parliament and he condemned the attack in the strongest possible language. The Parliament suspended its sittings for three days. Before it did that, it passed a no-confidence motion in the security chiefs. That is a strong indication of the feeling across the whole of Nigeria—we should not forget that the President is a member of the Islamic faith—that the attack on the church was not to be tolerated.
I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Croydon South Chris Philp for securing this important debate. Earlier this month, I had the privilege to meet the Reverend Yunusa Nmadu, the chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide Nigeria and general secretary of the Evangelical Church Winning All, who gave me an insight into the awful situation facing Christians in Nigeria, particularly in the north of the country.
I was told of the worrying rise in the number of young Christian schoolgirls being abducted and then subjected to forced conversion and forced marriage. The rise in attacks by the Fulani militia was also highlighted to me. It is reported that since such attacks have displaced some 62, people and left 6, dead and many more injured, in what observers have described as some form of ethnic cleansing. In the same timeframe, the Fulani herdsmen have destroyed some churches in Benue state alone. The examples that I have highlighted just touch on the issues in Nigeria, but there is certainly a great need to press the Nigerian Government to overhaul their existing security arrangements, so as to protect vulnerable communities from the threat posed by the Fulani militia.
I hope that the UK Government are able to raise those concerns, and that the Minister will join me in urging Nigeria to tackle the proliferation of small arms and to address the violence caused by the armed bandits and the Fulani herdsmen, among others. Sadly, persecution of individuals due to their religious belief is nothing new.
However, there is no doubt that communities of Christians that might once have expected to live in peace now face new threats that go hand in hand with rising political violence, attacks on free speech and discriminatory law making in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia. The Minister will be aware of the appalling attacks that took place this month on churches in Surabaya. What can we do? I know that the Minister has been developing a strong relationship with Indonesia, and I would like to know how the UK is sharing our security expertise with nations affected by Islamist terror, what work we are doing to share expertise on deradicalisation, and what engagement we have had on anti-blasphemy laws that are affecting Christian and Ahmadiyya communities.
What can we do to encourage thought leadership in regions such as the middle east? Saudi Arabia clearly wishes to rebrand itself very carefully as a more modern nation, in part to satisfy a growing demand for change from its young and vibrant population but also to diversify its economy. How can we harness that drive and carefully encourage the kingdom towards a more moderate approach, which other nations might be inclined to follow? Understandably, that development package is highly controversial among many of my constituents, but in so far as the Government wish to continue that aid relationship I agree with other Members that it ought to be conditional.
It is shocking that more than 2 million Christians around the world are persecuted simply because of their faith, and like many hon. Members today I commend the work of Open Doors. What stood out for me on its world watch list was the fact that many of the countries on the list are also synonymous with luxury holidays, such as the Maldives and Mexico.
We need to talk more about this issue and not be afraid to talk about it. We are traditionally still a Christian country, and this issue does not necessarily get the airtime that it deserves. We have leverage with our international aid budget, enabling us to push countries to do more and to stop persecuting people simply because of their faith. We should also ring-fence a proportion of our international aid specifically to address this issue, because it is so important.
In addition, I want us to ensure that our aid does not have unintended consequences, whereby we try to further causes such as education but actually make the problem worse. I also note the work of SAT-7 in my constituency of Chippenham.
Persecution of Christians debated in Westminster - The Christian InstituteThe Christian Institute
It is a broadcaster across the middle east and Africa that tries to promote Christian values but also tolerance of and respect for all religions, which we all want to see. Also, I echo the comments made earlier about SAT-7 being unable to get donations from the Department for International Development just because of its religious background. Dame Caroline Spelman Meriden Con It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone—thank you for calling me to speak, given that I have already made an intervention.
I return to what is happening in Nigeria. The world watch list names Nigeria as the country with the largest number of Christians who have been killed, at 3, In fact, 6, people in Nigeria have been killed by the radicalised Fulani herdsmen since Nigeria is a vast country that lies on a fault line between Islam and Christianity. There should be very real concern in our country about Nigeria, which, after all, is a Commonwealth country upon which we should be able to bring some pressure to bear. Will the Minister also come back to the question that I asked in my intervention about what the Government are doing to get the last of the Chibok girls freed?
These poor girls have slipped all too easily from the attention of the media around the world, and to think that a girl had to spend her 15th birthday in captivity just because of her unwillingness to give up her most profound belief shocks me to the core. I hope that by having this debate we can do something to ensure that those girls are not forgotten. Then Mr Philp will have the time remaining at the end to sum up the debate. Member for Croydon South Chris Philp on securing this very important debate. He made a powerful speech, which at times highlighted very disturbing, even harrowing cases from across the world, and he talked about the fundamental human rights that are jeopardised when people are not free to practise their religion.
As Christians in the UK, we can be subject to verbal abuse, but nobody ever prevents us from practising our religion. We have had many contributions this afternoon, and I will mention some of them. Members for Congleton Fiona Bruce and for Strangford Jim Shannon both talked about the Christian community in China and the fact that million Christians in that country are in great danger. Member for Henley John Howell , my hon. In fact, Nigeria is one of the countries where Christians face the greatest degree of persecution.
A number of Members have mentioned the Open Doors world watch list, and I will just highlight some of the countries on it. Neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and suspicious, and will report anything to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are either deported to labour camps or killed on the spot, and their families suffer the same fate. Meetings for worship are virtually impossible to arrange and so are conducted in the utmost secrecy.
The churches in Pyongyang that are shown to visitors serve mere propaganda purposes. In Somalia, family members and clan leaders intimidate and even kill converts to Christianity. Al-Shabaab, the radical militant group, relies on a clan-based structure to advance its ideology, forcing sheikhs and imams to teach jihad or face expulsion or death, so it is not only Christians who are targeted in Somalia but Muslims too.
Christians from a Muslim background in Somalia are regarded as high-value targets, and at least 23 suspected converts were killed last year. In Sudan, there is a complex cultural mix, but the Government are implementing a policy of one religion, one culture and one language. Under that authoritarian rule, freedom of expression is curtailed and the persecution of Christians is reminiscent of ethnic cleansing. Some Christians disguise their faith, even from their children and even after death, preferring to be buried in a Muslim cemetery rather than a Christian one.
In Pakistan, Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are regarded as low and dirty being officially reserved for Christians. I want to highlight the work of a Glasgow-based organisation called Global Minorities Alliance, which has produced a number of reports. Some of its staff travelled to Thailand to see some of the Pakistani Christians who had travelled to that country.
- About Our Work.
- ‘Secular values’?
- Mixed-faith couples need help from religious leaders | Julian Bond | Opinion | The Guardian.
- New Westminster Faith Debates | Lancaster University?
Once they are in Thailand, they are in a country that refuses to recognise their status as refugees and they find themselves in limbo, unable to go back to Pakistan and unable to start a new life. Daily life has become an economic hardship, coupled with the fear of arrest, detention and deportation. Finally, I want to mention three countries that target Christians, all of which we have links with—Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
We sell arms to Saudi Arabia at the same time as it targets Christians. Member for Chippenham Michelle Donelan mentioned tourism links. We have strong tourism links with Egypt and Turkey, yet their persecution continues, so we need to think carefully about our trade deals and our relationships when considering paying into economies through tourism. Member for Croydon South Chris Philp on his powerful speech on an important subject.
Persecution of Christians debated in Westminster
Christianity has been dominant in this country for 1, years and, for us, it can be difficult to imagine what it is like to be the persecuted. We tend to think of the persecutions of the first century or of the Tudor TV dramas, but the scale of what hon. Members on both sides of the House have described shows that persecution is a large and growing problem.
I want to say something about some particular countries, but we need to ask ourselves why this is happening before we can discuss what we need to do. Members have spoken about the middle east. I also commend the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which came to see me recently. Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston Preet Kaur Gill , talked about the problems in Nigeria, which are particularly concentrated in the north of the country and which have grown recently.
My husband was born in Kaduna and his father, who had been a colonial civil servant, died in At that time, the persecution was a small cloud on the horizon, not the big problem it is today. We need to do more. It is, of course, not easy, and we cannot just go around threatening people, but we need to pay more attention to the problem, as we do to the oldest Christian community, the Copts, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn Chris Evans talked about, and their particular need for protection. As hon. Members have said, the persecution takes different forms. In some places it is about a religious divide.
In some places it is state-driven oppression, particularly in China. In some places it is about people being excluded, and that is what we see in Mexico where, for example, someone in the wrong denomination might have their water and electricity cut off—shocking things, which I will raise when I am in Mexico next week. It is hard for us to understand why people feel that they are under threat from other religions, that what other religions do threatens their position, or that they are so entitled, and so confident in their own rightness, that they should impose their views on other people.
It is important that we increase and improve religious understanding. The Minister probably knows that there is a very good centre for religious understanding at the London School of Economics and Political Science, led by Rev. James Walters. We also need to consider how we can use our aid money.
We need to think more open-mindedly about what misunderstandings we have, as well as about those of other people, without in any way saying that any of the abuses are acceptable. In Vietnam, there are arrests, imprisonments, torture and extrajudicial killings, yet the Home Office wants to send a constituent of mine, who is a Christian, back there. We need to use the aid programme and we need to speak out, but will Foreign Office Ministers please also talk to the Home Office so that the very people who have been victims are not re-victimised in this country? I particularly respect his consistent and long-standing commitment—well, long-standing for a colleague of three years, anyway—to the issue during all his time in the House.
He and other hon. Members from across the House have given appalling examples of the persecution of Christians overseas. I fear that I will not be able to do justice in the relatively short time available to their heartfelt contributions, but I will, if necessary, write to those whose issues I am unable to address in these few words.
Member for Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman. She made a very good point. I am a great believer in joined-up government. Sometimes I fear that, between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, things are not quite as joined up as they should be on these sorts of matters, and I will do my level best to take up the hon.
Friend use his good offices to seek to ensure that, when Christian clerics are invited to the United Kingdom on religious visits, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office will facilitate visas rather than blocking them? Mark Field No doubt I will have the specifics of that matter before too long. Yes, I will endeavour to do that for my hon. The Government are, sadly, all too familiar with research conducted in recent years by reputable organisations that shows that the persecution of Christians is on the rise.
In the 12 months to October, Open Doors concluded that more than million Christians in 50 countries experienced what it regards as a high level of persecution. Its latest watch list charts a swathe of Christian persecution stretching from northern and western Africa to North Korea. I should at this point like to touch on the situation in Nigeria— an issue that a number of Members expressed concern about.
In addition to the challenges presented by Boko Haram, particularly in the north and on the north-eastern border with Cameroon, Nigeria faces daily violence in its central regions between Christian farmers and predominantly Muslim Fulani cattle herders. That cycle of violent clashes has resulted in countless deaths, particularly in recent years, and even in the destruction of entire villages, which we of course condemn.
I fully understand the concerns that have been raised. I should stress that this is a long-running conflict with complex causes, including land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water, as well as the religious divisions referred to. Along with my hon. It is imperative that the Nigerian Government and the military work together with the affected populations to bring perpetrators to justice and develop a solution that meets the needs of all the communities affected, as British officials will continue to encourage them to do.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Nigerian vice-president following the abductions of the Dapchi, and the Prime Minister herself, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, raised these issues with President Buhari on 16 April. Our view is that the attacks on schools must stop. Friend the Member for Meriden is right, unfortunately, that the terrible events in the north-east of the country and the abductions—still—of over schoolgirls have disappeared from the media, and this is an opportunity to raise the issue, as we will do in Abuja and beyond.
Returning to the broader theme, Christian persecution takes many forms. As we have heard, places of worship in far too many countries are targeted, shut down or even destroyed. Followers are discriminated against, subjected to mob attack and criminalised—in some cases, by the state. Many live in fear for their lives, and many thousands have been forced to flee their homes. In whatever form it manifests itself, all religious persecution is abhorrent and deplorable.
Governments, religious groups and right-minded people must do all they can to bring it to an end. I am glad that point was raised by a number of Members, including my hon. In our work around the globe, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will stand up for religious freedom—full stop. We do not do that simply for Christians; indeed, one has to recognise that for us to stand up exclusively for Christians would risk protecting a minority perhaps close to many western hearts to the exclusion of others or would, indeed, risk making them more vulnerable.
I assure Members—I saw this in my most recent visit—that we do our best to recognise that the persecution of Christians has become much more profound in particular parts of the world, not least China. I hope to come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow East David Linden later. Fiona Bruce The Minister talks about bringing perpetrators to justice. Two years ago in a debate in this House, Parliament voted by Members to nil to call on the Government to take action to hold to account the perpetrators of genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others in Syria and Iraq.
Will he say what action has been taken since then, or perhaps write to us? Will the Minister meet Lord Alton and me to discuss the genocide determination Bills we have introduced in our respective Houses? They would go some way to addressing the issue. Mark Field I will meet my hon. If she will excuse me, I will write to her with some of the details she has asked for.
A selection of "Central Spiritual Insights" gleaned from Christian sources
We believe that religious freedom is a bellwether of broader individual freedoms, democratic health and, ultimately, economic health. For all those reasons, it is a priority for this Government to defend and promote the rights of not only Christians but peoples of all faiths and none so that they can practise their faith or belief without fear or discrimination.
I could say much—time is running tight—about aspects of the bilateral work we do. Earlier this month, I visited Nepal. I expressed concern to Prime Minister Oli in a meeting I had with him that uncertainty around provisions of the new penal code might be used to limit the freedom to adopt, change or practise a religion. Those provisions can especially target Christian minorities.
I also raised concerns about freedom of religion or belief and about the protection of minority religious communities in Pakistan with the Ministry of Human Rights during my visit to that country in November. Needless to say, we will continue to raise concerns with the authorities in China at our annual UK-China human rights dialogue and on other occasions about the increasingly worrying and widespread persecution of Christian minorities—particularly those converting from other religions.
Our values form an integral part of our relationship with China; indeed, the Prime Minister raised human rights issues when she met President Xi and Prime Minister Li earlier this year. Chris Philp Will the Minister give way? Mark Field If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I only have a small amount of time left. So far this year my ministerial colleagues have raised issues about freedom of religion or belief with counterparts in such places as Iraq, Egypt and Burma. My hon. We have made representations to the Indonesian Government to ensure that the proposed blasphemy laws are not applied on their current rather discriminatory basis.
I will be going to that country for four days in August and will raise those issues then. Friend will appreciate the strong intelligence and security relationship we have with Indonesia. That is not in any way to forgive any of these issues, but we have important intelligence relationships, not least because of the global threat, particularly in Mindanao, which is just the other side of the Philippine border.
It is not just about Government-to-Government work. Too much sex these days — the sexualisation of society? Is it right for religions to treat men and women differently? Do Christians really oppose same-sex marriage? Should we legislate to permit assisted dying? All debates are free of charge and take place between 5. They are being previewed every preceding week in The Tablet. Essential for anyone who wants to understand Britain today, and tomorrow.