Thank you for contacting me about the persecution of Christians.
The UK champions freedom of religion or belief for everyone. As a country that is a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I passionately believe the UK should not shirk its responsibilities.
That is why I am glad the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, was published.
The Government has committed to implementing the Bishop’s 22 recommendations in full, and work continues to implement them in a way that will bring real improvements in the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief. Of the 22 recommendations, the UK has fully delivered 10, made good progress on a further 8, and Ministers are confident that all 22 will be delivered by the time of the independent review in 2022.
I also welcome the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Some of the recommendations will take longer to implement and will require an ongoing effort to embed into the working practice of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
2021 World Watch List Report: The FCDO regularly engages with Open Doors UK and has taken note of the 2021 World Watch List report and its findings. I am glad that the report has praised the UK Government for the many positive advances it has made in the past year.
Women: the Government acknowledges that Christian women are more likely than men to be victims of discrimination and persecution. For that reason human rights policy work already considers the impact of human rights violations on specific groups, including women. Last year, the UK joined the International Religious Freedoms Alliance and Ministers have committed the UK to using our membership to highlight the ways in which women are specifically targeted for abuse.
North Korea: I share the Government's grave concerns over the repression of Christians in North Korea. The Bishop of Truro's report cited a number of reports on the different forms of persecution faced by North Koreans who seek to practise Christianity outside of state-controlled organisations. There is, unfortunately, nothing to indicate the situation is getting better. I am told that the UK raised the lack of freedom of religious belief with the North Korean authorities during their most recent Universal Periodic Review. North Korea must engage positively with the international community on this issue and I know that the UK continues to urge this, including through the UK Embassy in Pyongyang.
PPE and Access to Aid during the coronavirus outbreak: I understand your concerns about the increased vulnerability of Christians during the coronavirus outbreak, including access to PPE. It is of course vital that we do all we can to ensure aid gets through to those that need it most. I know that the UK Government works to ensure that all aid reaches the most vulnerable including those from religious minorities and the FCDO is using its international partnerships to support the delivery of the medical supplies and PPE.. Covid-19 is likely to reinforce Christians' marginalised position in society, their experience of discrimination, violence and stigma, and further limit their access to essential support and services. I welcome that, for this reason, guidance was circulated across the FCDO highlighting that inclusion must be central to the UK's response and the specific contexts and needs of all religious minorities should be taken into account when developing practical programmes to tackle Covid-19. I know that the Government is continuing to assess the impact of Covid-19 on members of all minority religious and belief communities, including Christians.
Abduction of Maria Shahbaz and Human Rights in Pakistan: The UK Government strongly condemns the forced marriage and forced conversion of women and girls from religious minorities in Pakistan. We regularly raise our concerns on these issues with the Government of Pakistan. Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, raised our human rights concerns, including Freedom of Religion or Belief and issues affecting minority religious communities, with Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights, Dr Shireen Mazari, on 20 February. The UK will continue to urge the government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all people in Pakistan, as laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan and in accordance with international standards. Any request for asylum on such cases, would be considered on its merits in the normal way.
Christians in Syria and Iraq: The UK has been at the forefront of global efforts to bring Daesh to justice for their crimes, including through a commitment of £2 million in support of the UN investigative team to collect evidence of Daesh crimes in Iraq. The UK supported efforts to help Christians and other minority groups in Iraq to return home, and in Syria the UK provided a range of support to help bolster civil society, and promote human rights and accountability. In Iraq, the UK government has committed over £370 million in humanitarian and stabilisation aid since 2014. The UK government has committed £3.5 billion on supporting Syria since the start of the conflict; the UK’s largest ever humanitarian response to a crisis.
Christians in Nigeria: The UK is committed to supporting Nigeria in upholding the right to freedom of religion or belief, as protected by its constitution. The recent escalation in intercommunal violence has affected multiple states of Nigeria and has had a devastating effect on all communities. Ministers regularly engage faith-based organisations and raise our concerns with the Nigerian government. In North East Nigeria, Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa seek to undermine the right to freedom of religion by attacking both Muslims and Christians who do not subscribe to their extremist views. The UK Government is providing a substantial package of stabilisation and humanitarian support to help local communities affected by the terrorist conflict.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP