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16 April 2013

Persecution of Christians highlighted in parliament

Persecution of Christians highlighted in parliament

A 30-minute adjournment debate on the ‘Persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East’ in Westminster Hall in the House of Commons took place today, Tuesday 16 April, as a result of an Open Doors campaign raising awareness of increasing persecution of Christians in Africa.

Open Doors, an organisation that supports persecuted Christians worldwide, recently published its annual World Watch List, a report of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, highlighting current realities of persecution.

A summary of the report was submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom and hundreds of supporters across the UK emailed their MPs encouraging them to read it. Naomi Long MP responded by seeking an adjournment debate which gives the foreign office minister, David Lidington MP, a chance to respond.

In some of the most dangerous and restrictive countries in the world, Christians suffer interrogation, arrest and even death, for their faith. The Open Doors report highlights a recent significant increase of persecution of Christians in Africa as a result of the growing influence of Islamic extremism in countries not previously associated with persecution.

For the first time, Mali has appeared in the top 10 countries where Christians are experiencing discrimination. Open Doors UK chief executive Eddie Lyle said: "Mali used to be a model country. The situation in the north was tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active. Following the coup Christians have effectively been become 'persona non grata' and can no longer exist in northern states of the country."

The trend is further reflected by the addition of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Niger to the World Watch List. Open Doors says that extremists have gained influence across the African continent in the last year.

Naomi Long MP said: “By continuing to regularly shine a light on this issue in parliament, I hope that it sends a strong message that religious persecution will not go unseen or unchallenged by the international community and that the cause of religious freedom and freedom of conscience will have a strong, international advocate in the UK government.”

One MP responded: “I must confess that I was unaware of the extent of this type of persecution or of the number of countries where it is taking place. Apart from the mindless and needless violence, it really does make one consider the strength and dedication to Christianity that ordinary people have when they risk facing this type of abuse in their own country for their beliefs."

The timely debate comes the day after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office published its 2012 Human Rights and Democracy report, the annual indicator of the UK's commitment to raising human rights standards and stamping out global abuses wherever they occur from Syria to Saudi Arabia to the DRC.

Zoe Baldock, advocacy manager at Open Doors said: “We welcome the government’s acknowledgement of the growth of violence against religious communities, which reinforces the trend we have already highlighted in our report. We are delighted to see a clear statement that freedom of belief includes the freedom to share it, change it and to teach others about it.

“Change happens when people identify a problem, pray, speak up, and insist that things should be different. It is really important that ordinary people make sure that our politicians are well-informed about the importance of - and need for - freedom of religion and belief.”