Open Doors logoOpen Doors supports persecuted Christians around the world. They have recently issued this email report on a 30-minute Adjournment Debate in Westminster Hall on the ‘Persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East’, held on Tuesday 16 April 2013.

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Tuesday’s Westminster Hall adjournment debate addressed key issues on the persecution of Christians.  Foreign Office Minister David Lidington noted that there was a large number of MPs present – that’s undoubtedly down to the nearly 2000 of you who alerted your own MP to the debate! Thank you so much to those who made that important contribution to this campaign!

The debate was initiated by Naomi Long MP, who gave an excellent opening speech. She highlighted the increased persecution of Christians in various African countries which aren’t usually associated with persecution, and underlined that “the Arab spring has had disastrous consequences for religious freedom and has promoted a major exodus of Christians from the Middle East.”

She called on the government to explain how they were responding to these challenges, and stated that “the right to have a faith and to practise that faith, both in private and in community with others, and to change one’s faith and not be disadvantaged or endangered for reason of one’s beliefs, is a basic and fundamental human right that should apply universally.”

Naomi emphasised that “The nature of persecution is incredibly variable. In some situations, it will take the form of a “squeeze”, with pressure being applied, while in others it is in the form of “smash”, with recourse to violence. However, either kind represents a denial of article 18 and should be resisted.”

She concluded: “I trust that continued focus on such matters in Parliament, whether through debates like this or through the work of the all-party group, will send out a clear message that religious persecution will not go unseen or unchallenged by the international community and that the cause of religious freedom and freedom of conscience will have a strong international advocate in the UK Government.”

One MP interrupted Naomi’s speech to highlight the value of Open Doors Handbook of Prayer, saying that “all churches in the UK could usefully have copies of its World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted… it is informative, helpful and useful for all churches.” (You can order a copy for your church today!)

The Foreign Office official response:

Foreign Office Minister David Lidington replied: “As the excellent report from Open Doors made clear, violence, discrimination and systematic persecution threaten Christian communities in Africa, the Middle East and certain other countries around the world. The Government shares many of the concerns expressed in the Open Doors report. We condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals or groups on the grounds of their religion, regardless of the country or faith concerned. As the report rightly emphasised, our condemnation should extend not solely to the more extreme forms of suffering inflicted upon people because of their religion or belief, but to any and all forms of such discrimination.”

He revealed that “We require our embassies and high commissions around the world to monitor violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. We are clear that that freedom involves not only the right to hold personal thoughts, but to manifest them individually and collectively. We provide our missions overseas with what in the jargon we call a toolkit—a set of detailed monitoring criteria—to help staff at our embassies and high commissions to analyse in detail the many potential manifestations of discrimination on the grounds of freedom of religion or belief, including discrimination in access to education and employment, or other administrative or legal restrictions on groups, buildings or individuals.”

Importantly, the Minister emphasised that “The Government’s position is to condemn laws against so-called apostasy and any government policies anywhere in the world that punish people for changing their religion or belief voluntarily and freely.”

And, as time ran out, he promised written answers on other questions that had been asked.

Follow these links to watch the debate, or read the full Parliamentary record.

Thank you again for your prayerful action which was central to making this debate possible. Open Doors will continue engaging with the Foreign Office and MPs on the points that were raised, on behalf of our brothers and sisters who face persecution on a daily basis.

Source: Open Doors, www.opendoorsuk.org

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