Lord Ahmad’s appointment as PM’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief welcomed

The Evangelical Alliance has welcomed the appointment of the UK's first special envoy for religion and belief.

According to a government announcement, Lord Ahmad, who is a minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will promote the UK's stance on religious tolerance abroad and help to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution.

The Pew Research Centre released statistics in June which showed that religious freedom has taken its biggest hit in over a decade. In 2016, Christians reported incidents of harassment in more countries than any other faith group; the figure hit 144, up from 108 in 2014.

Researchers commented on the findings: "When combining measures of government restrictions and social hostilities, more than four-in-ten countries (42 per cent) had high or very high levels of overall religious restrictions in 2016."

Analysis by Christianity Today added: "Because some of the most restrictive countries are also the world's largest – think China and India – a majority of the global population (83 per cent) live in places with 'high' or 'very high' religious restrictions, mostly targeting religious minorities."

Lord Ahmad is an Ahmadiyya Muslim, a group that has often been persecuted by more dominant strands of Islam; for example, in Pakistan they are forbidden from describing themselves as Muslims.

Taking up his role, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, London, said: "In too many parts of the world, religious minorities are persecuted, discriminated against and treated as second class citizens. As a man of faith, I feel this very keenly."

Commenting on the appointment, Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "On behalf of the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Alliance, I warmly welcome Lord Ahmad's appointment, and congratulate the Prime Minister for acknowledging the critical importance of religious freedom.

"As the freedom that underpins all our other human rights and civil liberties, freedom of religion is the best guarantor and measurement of real democracy. As such, I wish Lord Ahmad well in his new role, and pray he will be successful in securing and extending relgious freedom both at home and abroad."

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Evangelical Alliance member Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), and part of the RLC, said: "CSW has been greatly encouraged by Lord Ahmad's concern and dedication for those around the world of all creeds or none who experience injustice because of their religion or belief, and we look forward to continuing to work with him to uphold and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief for all."

Paul Robinson, CEO of Evangelical Alliance member, Release International, and part of the RLC said: "As a voice of persecuted Christians, Release International looks forward to Lord Ahmad continuing to vigorously defend religious freedom for Christians and all who are opposed because of their faith".

Lord Ahmad added: "Freedom of religion or belief is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must be respected. People from all faiths and none should be free to practice as they wish. This respect is key to global stability and is in all our interests."

Making the appointment this week, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "Religious discrimination blights the lives of millions of people across the globe and leads to conflict and instability. Both here and abroad, individuals are being denied the basic right of being able to practice their faith free of fear."

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About the Evangelical Alliance

We are the Evangelical Alliance. We join together hundreds of organisations, thousands of churches and tens of thousands of individuals for the sake of the gospel. Representing our members since 1846, the Evangelical Alliance is the oldest and largest evangelical unity movement in the UK.

We love Jesus and we want everyone in the UK to be given an opportunity to know Him.

We love His church, and we will do all we can to unite evangelicals, building confidence in the gospel and speaking as a trusted voice into society to see it changed for Him.

Working across the UK, with offices in London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast, our members come together from across denominations, locations, age groups and ethnicities, all sharing a passion to know Jesus and make Him known.