LONDON (Reuters/PCP) - Britain has commissioned an independent review into the persecution of Christians to find practical steps to support followers of a religion that it said has been subject to a dramatic rise in violence worldwide.
Some 215 million Christians worldwide faced persecution for their faith last year, it said, with Christian women and children particularly vulnerable and often subject to sexual violence as a result of their beliefs.
Last year, on average, 250 Christians were killed very month because of their faith, it said. “So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Today I have asked the Bishop of Truro to look at how the British government can better respond to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.
“We can and must do more.”
The review will map Christian persecution in key countries across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, analyze British support and recommend a comprehensive policy response, the government said.
Meanwhile, Wilson Chowdhry speaking on BBC National news in the wake of the commissioning of the new persecution report. This unprecedented review will be led by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Philip Mountstephen. The objectives of the review are to gain a deeper understanding of global Christian persecution and to provide pragmatic steps and recommendations to remediate the problems that Christians under threat experience. An annual survey undertaken by Open Doors states that North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan experience the greatest Christian persecution, however, Christian persecution happens in numerous countries.
This seeming about-face by the UK government can be juxtaposed against its reprehensible refusal of asylum to persecuted Pakistani Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi. Perhaps this is the UK’s way of redeeming itself in the eyes of the world who remain shocked that one of the most powerful nations on earth, often lauded for its human rights record, would turn its back on a desperate Christian woman while controversially welcoming home jihadi brides and IS soldiers. Despite a BPCA poll suggesting that a huge majority of British people polled would prefer Asia Bibi as a neighbour than Jihadi John.
In the preceding years BPCA have held and attended many conferences and meetings on the matter of Christian persecution with various groups including: the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Religious Freedom or Belief, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistani Minorities and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ahmadis and we have also consistently collaborated with other faiths to have minority repression recognised.
In the past Lord Alton has expressed his fears that getting Britain to conduct such an investigation into Christian persecution was unlikely because it wouldn’t satisfy the “PC” brigade who continue to turn a blind eye to Christian suffering. Following this BPCA submitted a report highlighting the fact that there are some nations that Christians simply cannot seek asylum in because it is too dangerous and they will be re-persecuted attempting to express the need of a heightened risk-assessment for Christian asylum in the west, while moving away from equally true arguments that Christians are proven to align better with western Judeo-Christian values.
Lord Alton wisely proffered the suggestion that BPCA alter its framework when dealing with and discussing the plight of Christians worldwide – he suggested it was more accurate to speak of their persecution in terms of genocide because Christians indeed are exposed to genocidal practices (click here). Though this would help with many Christians those suffering in Pakistan would still be ignored due to not being a nation that is war torn and it is hard to prove state-sponsored hatred due to the devious politics in Pakistan, so we have had to continue with our demand for the recognition of Christian persecution. According to Open Doors, 215 million Christians are persecuted worldwide and 250 Christians are killed per month for their faith. How does this staggering statistic not shock people into action and expose deeply entrenched hatred towards Christians globally?
Persecution of Christians in Pakistan is pervasive. While there are numerous examples of Christian persecution this article will illuminate a few pertinent instances. Firstly, despite the enactment of anti slavery laws in 1992, pursuant to the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act 1992, there remain 1 million Pakistani-Christian brick-kiln slaves that lead lives of indentured servitude. In the preceding six years there have been 11 terror attacks targeting Christians, including the horrific Peshawar Church bombing in 2013 which killed 129 people. There have also been countless mob attacks including Gojra, Gujranwala and St Joseph’s Colony.
Furthermore, Asia Bibi is not the only blasphemy victim – there are currently 40 blasphemy cases on foot and despite only comprising 2% of the population, over half of these cases involve Ahmadi and Christian defendants and we produced a list of 16 Christians convicted (here). This is a clear illustration that these laws are used as weapons to repress already marginalised minorities. All across Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, blasphemy laws are used to usurp proprietary and other rights. They are also used to settle personal vendettas, satiate the macabre desires of diabolical Imams and repress an already voiceless, marginalised segment of the population.
There are countless other examples of Christian persecution in Pakistan. According to Muslim NGO (the Movement for Solidarity and Peace), 700 Christian girls are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year and 300 Hindu girls suffer the same fate. Although BPCA regards this as a conservative statistic, it is elucidatory of the endemic problems in Pakistan and provides welcome independent evidence. In the month of August alone there have been 14 documented cases of severe persecution and human rights violations against Christians. This included the murder of four Christians: Vicky Salem in Lahore, Amara in Sheikhupura, Yousaf Masih in Okara and Mehwish Shaukhat in Hyderabad.
Discrimination, prejudice and hatred is inculcated and indoctrinated at the educational level from a young age. According to a study conducted by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in 2013, Christians are demonised, caricatured and portrayed as spies for the West in national curriculum textbooks. Hindus are also portrayed as traitorous and equally caricatured and stereotyped. Therefore, prejudicial attitudes need to be challenged from the educational level. BPCA notes that the UK sends 225 million pounds per year to Pakistan for holistic education. Perhaps the review could alter the UK aid programme to lever changes ensuring that (a) prejudicial attitudes are not expressed in national curriculum textbooks and that (b) a proportion of funds is earmarked to ensure the disparity between Muslim and Christians education is tackled - currently there is a 7% literacy rate in the Christian minority.
Christian persecution is not unique to Islamic nations. Open Doors reveals that due to burgeoning Hindu Nationalism India is now 11th on its list of countries where Christians are most persecuted. While the source of Christian persecution depends on the location in India, the prime perpetrators of Christian persecution are Hindu radical groups including: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena and Vishya Hindu Parishad (VHP). Hindu radicals also dominate the central government in New Delhi. In Muslim-majority areas, Christians experience persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority. In the poorer regions of the country (Bihar, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh), the Naxalite movement (Maoist rebels) also persecutes Christians.
Indeed, there are numerous examples of Christian persecution in India. In November 2016, a pastor and his family showed a Jesus film to their village. When they returned to their home it had been burnt to the ground. In May 2017, seven pastors were arrested for hosting a prayer meeting in a follower’s home in Uttar Pradesh (click here). Last year Pastor Sultan was shot outside his church (click here). These are very frightening and tangible examples of avid and growing Christian persecution around the world.
As another example, the Egyptian Christian church (overwhelming comprised of orthodox Coptics), is under constant threat. Open Doors ranks Egypt as the 17th most dangerous country for Christians. Over 75 Christians died in extremist attacks in 2017 alone in Egypt.
It is also worth noting that is it simply not safe for Christians in UN asylum camps, particularly because of the tenuous relationship that they have with other asylum seekers, especially Muslim asylum seekers who are adamant on converting them.
One only needs to look at the atrocious situation in the Moria UN Camp on Lesbos Island in Greece. The camp is comprised of a majority Muslim population and Christians suffer extreme persecution including: being prevented from holding worship services, tents being burnt to the ground, forced conversions, bullying and harassment. If they escape the camp they are subject to Greece’s “geographic restriction” policy (which the UNHCR abides) where they are forced to return to the camp where they were originally re-persecuted, before their application for asylum will be assessed. Exceptions only apply where the applicant has a severe health condition (click here). BPCA has called on the UN and Greek Authorities to review this dangerous policy which sees Christians return to conditions of persecution and believe the UK report could shed light on this matter.
BPCA Chairman, Wilson Chowdhry, wrote an email to Greece's Ambassador to the United Kingdom Dimitris Caramitsos asking for a change to the current policy. Chowdhry wrote: “The majority of Christian refugees escape but are being refused asylum by Greek authorities who only consider adverse health as a mitigating factor and not Christian persecution," Chowdhry's email continued. "We are seeking your help in obtaining a change in the current Greek policy in which the risk of proven re-persecution of Christians counts as a mitigating factor for asylum assessment for escapees of Moria Camp."
Caramitsos has hitherto not responded to Chowdhry's email.
When Lord Alton and BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry travelled to Thailand circa three years ago to seek help for the swathes of Pakistani-Christian asylum seekers in desperate need of help, they met with Special Protection Officer Peter Trotter. At that time there were approximately 7000 Pakistani Christians in dire need of help. They asked Peter Trotter, “Why is it so difficult for Pakistani Christians to seek asylum?” the answer given was that the UNHCR follows Britain’s policy wherein it is stated that Christians only suffer “severe discrimination” and not “persecution” despite avid anecdotal evidence that they are exposed to significant genocidal practices. Lord Alton and Mr Chowdhry were equally appalled that the UN had not even bothered to undertake their own analysis of the situation. Thailand a country once believed to be extremely tolerant, has in their treatment of Pakistani Christians and other asylum seekers been found to be very protectionist, when it comes to preserving a uniform cultural identity. More about the dilemma of Pakistani Christians can be viewed on a one hour BBC documentary (click here), our Chairman Wilson Chowdhry chaperoned Chris Rogers around Thailand to facilitate the filming.
If you continue to harbour any doubt that Christians are persecuted, one only needs to look at the very visceral and confronting footage of thousands of rioters taking to the street calling for the blood of Asia Bibi after she was acquitted on blasphemy charges in late October. This was a very visceral, palpable and tangible representation of the pervasive and widespread hatred against Christians. The hope is that the UK’s new inquiry will provide an accurate representation of the lived reality of many Christians and therein facilitate a fairer asylum seeker process.
BPCA hopes the report will result in engagement with more stable and affluent Islamic, Hindu, and Bhuddist nations, as it would be sage for Muslim and Hindu asylum seekers to be relocated to majority Muslim and Hindu countries respectively, where it is believed that they will integrate much easier due to a cultural affinity. This is not to say people from other faiths should not be invited to the UK and other western nations but a choice should be offered, especially considering the desires of many Muslims to enter countries with existing Sharia law provisions and for Hindu's who are frightened of being converted in the west. For definite the current spectator status of Islamic, Hindu and Bhuddist nations who exempt themselves from the global migration concern is an alarming failure of global conscience and we hope the report sheds light on this. Similarly, BPCA believes that Christian asylum seekers can only relocate to countries with large Christian populations because anywhere else they inevitably are re-persecuted.
Moreover, BPCA welcomes Jeremy Hunt’s initiative to conduct a proper examination of global Christian persecution. It is hoped that this will improve the risk assessment tool used when assessing Christian asylum seekers and that it will enable a fairer assessment of their plight.
Australian BPCA representative, Lara Hall, commends the move as follows: “The UK’s decision to examine the abhorrent plight of Christians globally is a positive move in the right direction. It is my hope that this will give a voice to a voiceless, marginalised and repressed minority - I hope it will trigger scrutiny of the same matter in Australia.
BPCA will continue to be an advocate for Christians and other minorities suffering around the world and we will do our utmost to ensure that the fruits of this review reflect the lived reality of persecuted Christians globally.”
BPCA Charmain, Wilson Chowdhry, made the following remarks,
“Although I malign the UK’s refusal of asylum to Asia Bibi, this is an encouraging step in the right direction and I hope it embodies an accretion towards the proper recognition of Christian persecution.
BPCA have been calling for such a review for years and therefore, it is with praise and gratitude that we welcome this move by Jeremy Hunt. We hope that other nations follow suit.
"This report will become a extremely rigorous tool to stem the rise in anti-Christian hatred and violence across the world and allow Christians to worship and live in peace within their respective nations. "The world has stood silent while millions of Christians have suffered some of the most ignominious persecution, this report may well be the watershed moment that brings about real change. I am proud that it is Britain that was first to traverse this much needed pathway to a better world."