London: July 5, 2017. (PCP) Today a much-awaited debate on Christian Persecution was held at Westminster Hall - surprisingly it was held by a large number of MPs. The last time a debate like this was held was around five years ago and many believe it was long overdue.
The event was championed by MP Jim Shannon of the DUP who is of course Chairman of the All Parliamentary Party for International Religious Freedom and was presided over by MP Hanson Shadow Police and Justice Minister and also Shadow Treasury Minister.
Dame Caroline Spelman who is Second Church Estates Commissioner questioned the role of Foreign Office in particular Embassies in preserving religious freedom. She questioned the Foreign Minister:
"For the Foreign Office religious freedom is a priority but what does that mean in practice? There are guidelines for embassies around the world about what they should do to promote religious freedom.
"What percentage of embassy funds that can be spent on local projects are used for projects on freedom of religious belief? Christians are increasingly being persecuted around the world, often in countries were actually we are very significant donors of aid."
Dame Spelman also raised concerns about Taimoor Raza who recently was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death, after engaging in a debate on facebook with a person named Muhammed Usman, who later turned out to be a Pakistani counter-terrorism agent. The problem arose over a sectarian argument based on Mr Raza's Shia sensitivities and the majority Sunni view. Mr Raza has now been sentenced to death the harshest penalty thus far given out for a Blasphemy law victim in Pakistan.
MP Lisa Cameron shared a wonderful anecdote about visiting an Amish community in Pennsylvania and used that to explain the need for tolerance of all faiths right across the word. She expressed the joy and fascination of learning about new cultures and faiths that should be a shared feeling for all.
Regarding the role of DFID MP Cameron described a visit to Lebanon where money was being used to help the most vulnerable refugees. Evidence was heard of the fear Christians face of living in refugee camps due to existing persecution. She said:
"Many do not go to refugee camps because they fear they will be discriminated against of attacked."
MP Cameron asked the Foreign Minister what percentage of Christians benefit from relocation programmes with UNHCR, for which Britain is a contributor.
MP Chris Bryant a former priest seemed at odds with the goals of the meeting. He sought the foreign office to focus on alleviating world poverty and ensuring a continuation of the agreed 0.7% UN target for international aid for which Britain was reported as only one of sx countries in the world to achieve (click here). He set no priority on tackling Christian persecution.
MP Andrew Selous who is a Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, spoke of the Open Doors Worldwatch list which he keeps posted in his office. He highlighted persecution in several countries mentioning Pakistan in his address and suggesting churches in the constituencies of MP's should maintain the Worldwatch list so that they remember to pray for the suffering church.
MP Patricia Gibson, said: "...the freedom of religion to worship God should be an absolute right....to compromise on religious freedom is a threat to all the freedoms of that particular society."
She described persecution in North Korea where she estimated 300,000 Christians are labelled enemies of state. She commented on how society in North Korea 'looks like something straight out of a George Orwell novel'. She went on to describe how in Somalia converting out of Islam is illegal. Moreover, Al shabab want to rid somalia of Christians and kill those suspected of being Christian on the spot.
MP Gibson spoke of 300,000 Christians residing in Iraq living under the threat of being beheaded and killed by IS. Public executions of Christians were used for terror propaganda. MP Gibson moved onto the 1.25 million Christians residing in Saudi Arabia where conversion is punishable by death. India was listed by her as a nation with a poor record for human rights that persecutes its 59 million Christians. the 900,000 Christians in Qatar were also highlighted as being under the yoke of persecution.
She estimated the existence of 5.3 Million Christians in Pakistan, where women and children are subjected to sexual abuse and blasphemy laws are being used to attack Christian churches. She also described Moldova were owning a bible can lead to a prison sentence and being Christian loses you your nationality. MP Gibson, said:
"Western media does not cover stories for fear of disturbing cultural sensibilities.
"In the area of religious freedom there is no room for cultural sensibilities", she added.
MP Chris Matheson was surprised to see Columbia and Mexico on a list for Christian persecution. "I asked why that it is - it seems there is a problem with organised criminals targeting religious groups, particularly church groups in rural areas. They use necessary violence that organised criminals must resort to such as extortion and its such like to get their way," he said.
"I would say simply to the minister that there is absolutely a role, surely, for the uk to help develop civil society structures within these countries to help with law enforcement - to take on organised crime in areas where we have experience."
David Lindon a recently elected MP spoke of a Christian majority in Tanzania who are being persecuted in areas where Muslim majorities exist. he asked for dialogue with the Tanzanian Government to ensure vulnerable Christians are protected. He described persecution in Saudi Arabia as 'one of the most dangerous places to worship Jesus Christ'.
He said: "Saudi Arabia remains one of her majesty's closet allies... Britain is far to quick to lower its flag at half mast upon the death of Saudi monarchs yet seldom does a day go by without the brutality of state sponsored torture and human rights abuses and murder by Saudi authorities but no flags in those cases are lowered.
"What exactly is the UK getting in a relationship with the Saudis other then arms sales? ....in the case of Saudi Arabia the British Government isn't just turning another cheek they are turning a blind eye."
MP Linden also mentioned persecution in India, Nigeria and Chechnya and said in the case of news about Pakistan that 'it was essential for the Government to hear it'.
MP Liz McInnes listed the four worst countries to live as a Christian: North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Pakistan. She spoke about Taimoor Raza and how she wrote to the Foreign Minister about his case and was advised that the Foreign Office is calling for Pakistan to honour its commitment to human rights. Liz McInnes also reiterated concerns about 'Christians refugees being reluctant to go to refugee camps where they should be seeking help but fear discrimination and violence.'
Mark Field, Minister of State for the Foreign Office confirmed that £758,000 pounds is being spent on Freedom Religion projects which includes work in Pakistan and Iraq. He also explained that Foreign Office diplomats lobby governments across the globe on a regular basis.
In a bizarre statement he said in regards to Taimoor Raza: "...the reality is that such sentences are commuted to life imprisonment." Which to most of us does not seem like much of a gift or anything worth the mention.
He continued his address and said: "Pakistan is our second largest recipient of foreign aid from DFID and I would be reluctant to withdraw from any aid or development programme on the basis of what's discussed here today.
"Freedom of religion however must be integral part of any ongoing aid and development work. Through our diplomatic channels between London and Islamabad we will make sure that the Pakistani Government are made well aware of what we regard as not only our priorities but their responsibilities under DFID expenditure."
He spoke of a visit to ancient Christian villages in Palmyra saying 'I shudder to think what has happened to them.'
"Where Freedom of Religious beliefs are being attacked so are other rights. In Pakistan, the foreign secretary continues to fight for the rights of all minorities. We have provided £165 million pounds of aid to Iraq since 2014. We have also Continued to provide assistance as part of a 67 strong coalition fighting against Daesh..
Jim Shannon a long term campaigner for protection of the ever increasing Christians being persecuted across the globe. Closed by thanking all the participants and then shared a bible verse from John 14.
'Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Matthew 5:10.
After watching the enthralling debate, Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
"An amazing thing happened today Christian MP's put aside cultural sensitivities and boldy expressed their disgust and concerns about the millions of Christians facing persecution across the globe.
"It is no surprise to me and many followers of the BPCA that Pakistan was mentioned by every MP that spoke at Westminster hall, barring MP Gary Bryant who seemed to have walked into the wrong room. It is for pertinent reasons that Open Doors in the Worldwatch list have named Pakistan as the fourth worst nation in the world to live as a Christian.
"Sadly for me despite a clear acceptance by MP's that persecution exists in Pakistan, our Foreign office have never endorsed this fact - meaning a large majority of Christians who escape Pakistan fail asylum cases.
"In stating that he would not be willing to terminate current foreign aid spending priorities based on the discussion today, MP Mark Field gave a wonderful boon to any Pakistani officials listening in on the debate. To them it must seem that they can continue the poor governance and intentional mismanagement of their country that I believe is aimed at causing maximum distress to minorities, whilst creating enough instability to keep funds flowing from our unsuspecting UK government."