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New government envoy appointed for freedom of religion and belief

Rehman Christi MP has recently taken up his new role for the government.

Rehman Chishti MP has been appointed the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. He replaces Lord Ahmad in the role.

Speaking about his appointment last month, Mr Chishti said: I am delighted to have been appointed as the PM’s Special Envoy. I have championed freedom of religion and belief for much of my life. I shall use the UK Government’s global network to take real action to support those persecuted for their faith or belief and promote greater understanding and respect between faiths.”

Mr Chishti himself has a strong record of campaigning on freedom of religion or belief as an MP. For example, it was partly the Government’s response to Asia Bibi which prompted him to resign from a position in the Conservative Party last year. As he wrote at the time: What I found shocking, is that the British Government is failing to put into practice the core values that our country stands for: religious freedom, justice, morally doing the right thing, and that when we see injustice where an individual’s life is in clear danger and they have been persecuted for their faith, we do all that we can to help them. The Government should not wait to see if another country offers sanctuary, we should have had the conviction to lead on this matter and offer sanctuary ourselves straight away.”

Recently, Mr Chishti held a roundtable for representatives of different faiths and beliefs, including Dr David Landrum, our director of advocacy. Dr Landrum commented: Mr Chishti’s appointment as FORB Special Envoy is another encouraging sign that the government is taking religious freedom more seriously. It was good to meet Mr Chishti at the roundtable and to be able to raise concerns about what is happening in Algeria and to be able to call for more concerted action in response to the appalling persecution of Christians in Nigeria. I look forward to working with him to promote and protect religious freedom.”

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Mr Chishti will have several challenges as he enters the role. The threats to freedom of religion or belief around the world have not gone away. Only recently, for example, the World Evangelical Alliance and others have raised concerns about church closures in Algeria, with the Algerian Government failing to recognise the rights of religious minorities to meet for worship. We will be keen to hear in due course how the British Government will engage with the Government of Algeria to promote religious freedom. 

In addition, as Britain seeks allies and trading partners around the world in the context of Brexit, an old temptation will recur: to see human rights for minorities as a mere inconvenient roadblock to important relationships. In the past, our support for human rights has been met with opposition from those arguing that such issues should not get in the way of trade. With this in mind, Mr Chishti’s role as Special Envoy will be particularly vital and may involve difficult conversations with his colleagues in Government, as he argues that some issues cannot be compromised. 

Finally, part of our work on religious freedom overseas will be to reflect on the example we set in our own country. Some authoritarian governments have taken British proposals around non-violent extremism, for instance, as precedent for their own far more regressive crackdowns on dissent. It is heartening to see, in that context, the lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism, Sara Khan, highlight this as a problem. More broadly, though, part of Mr Chishti’s role will surely be to challenge such inconsistencies in the UK, which may hamper our human rights advocacy abroad.

With all this in mind, please join us in praying for Mr Chishti in his new role, and for our Foreign Office as it seeks to promote freedom of religion or belief around the world. 

About the author

John began working at the Evangelical Alliance in 2016, focusing on issues of debate in parliament that are relevant to evangelical Christians in the UK. Before this he worked as a research assistant for the Church of England Bishop of Coventry, supporting his work in the House of Lords and his focus on freedom of religion or belief and global reconciliation. He holds a BA in Theology and an MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman world, and he remains very interested in biblical studies and inter-religious dialogue. He also teaches English to speakers of other languages at a class run by his church.

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