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13 June 2014

New website encourages action against religious persecution

New website encourages action against religious persecution

Picture source: www.freedomdeclared.org

With recent heart-wrenching stories of persecution in Sudan and Nigeria, the launch of a new website by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief this week is timely.

The website www.freedomdeclared.org describes the scale of religious persecution across the world, highlighting cases from four countries: Burma, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan. It also has a strong focus on taking action, equipping individuals to contact their MP or act on specific cases, for example writing to the government of Sudan on behalf of imprisoned Christian Meriam Ibrahim.

Some 76 per cent of the world's population live in countries where they face high-level hostility due to their religious affiliations, as well as high levels of government restrictions on religious freedom. This is despite Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights giving everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that between 2007-2012, religious hostilities had increased in every region of the world except the Americas. Persection particulary increased in the Middle East and North Africa following the Arab Springs.

Officially launched last year, the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief brings MPs and members of the House of Lords together to raise awareness of international religious freedom as a human right. The group also aims to increase the effectiveness of the UK's contribution to international institutions, such as the UN, charged with enforcing this human right.

In the words of Alliance council member Gavin Shuker MP, shadow international development minister and a member of the APPG: "Freedom to practice one's religion or belief is at the heart of a civilised society;it falls on all of us to defend and extend it around the world."

The APPG's chair Baroness Elizabeth Berridge told the Alliance: "As chair of the cross party group of parliamentarians we are so encouraged by the support of leaders from across faith and non-faith groups who are determined to defend the basic human right of freedom of religion or belief. We are convinced that when people both inside and outside of Parliament unite around this issue, we will see significant improvement in the situation for people who are persecuted due to their faith or belief around the world. It is with this hope that we have launched this website to both inform and mobilise individuals and organisations."

The stories highlighted on the website represent the range of religious persecution across the world, from the mass persecution of more than one million Rohingya Muslims in Western Burma, to the murders of individual Christians in Pakistan, the imprisonment of Christian pastors in Iran, and the sentencing to death of Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman in Sudan.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and Open Doors are three of 15 stakeholder organisations actively supporting the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Release International CEO Paul Robinson commented: "We're delighted that, through the APPG, there is now a permanent voice for persecuted religious minorities being raised in Westminster, and that Release is part of this. The APPG's website provides a great opportunity for people to get involved and do something to tackle the whole issue of persecution."

Commending the new website, COO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide Andy Dipper said: "The website is an easy to use portal for information, clearly written and easy to navigate. Nothing replaces thorough analysis and understanding of the issues, and practical means of engaging to see positive change result. We in CSW are pleased to be part of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief and will continue to work tirelessly providing briefings and in-depth analysis to parliamentarians across all parties in both houses."

Zoe Baldock, head of advocacy at Open Doors, highlighted the unique role of the APPG: "Since their launch last year, the APPG has been doing incredible work as a unique voice in parliament and we at Open Doors are delighted to be involved with them. We welcome the launch of their new website, www.freedomdeclared.org, which is a fantastic resource drawing together stories from around the world and across faiths and beliefs. The site not only highlights the need to take action and speak out for those facing persecution for their faith, but makes that action accessible to all and incredibly easy to do."

Focusing on the need to take action, the website can help you:

  • be informed –explore the Freedom Declared website, follow the links and subscribe to their email list. You will not only be informed about the reality of the abuse of freedom of religion or belief, but also the specific actions being taken in and through parliament, including events and briefings;
  • take action –speak out for individuals and groups suffering persecution and hardship because of their beliefs;
  • spread the news –let's make sure we take all the opportunities open to us to encourage awareness and action amongst our friends, in our organisations, in our faith groups, in our formal and informal networks, and through social media.

Visit www.freedomdeclared.org to find out more.