The debate, which was secured by the Democratic Unionist party and moved by Shadow DUP Spokesperson for Human Rights, Jim Shannon, highlighted the increasing hostility against Christians that has been growing throughout the 21st century.
Concern about global attacks against Christians follows research by the Pew Research Centre which acknowledged that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.
During the course of Tuesday’s discussion, concern was raised about the safety of Christians living in the following countries: North Korea, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Niger, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Burma, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Mexico, Lebanon, Colombia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan.
Tuesday’s debate discussed a number of practical measures that can be pursued by the foreign office to highlight the scale of this problem. The session culminated in the following motion being agreed upon:
“That this House is concerned that the persecution of Christians is increasing in the 21st Century; notes that there are reports that one Christian is killed every 11 minutes somewhere on earth for their faith; further notes that Christianity is the most persecuted religion globally; bears in mind that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a human right stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and calls on the Government to do more both in its foreign policy and through its aid work to defend and support people of Christian faith.”
A transcript of the proceedings can be read here, while a full video of the debate can be watched below:
KEY QUOTATIONS FROM THE DEBATE
“Let us be honest: if this were happening to almost any other religious group it would be something of a national scandal.” Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
“One hundred thousand Christians will be massacred this year because of their beliefs. Two hundred million Christians will be persecuted due to their faith. One and a half billion Christians live in what can be termed as dangerous neighbourhoods. That shows the magnitude of the problem of persecuted Christians….
“In Syria, Christians are caught between opposing sides in the conflict. There are an increasing number of missile and mortar attacks in Christian neighbourhoods in cities such as Damascus and Aleppo. Jihadists are now widely understood to have infiltrated the rebel movement in Syria. They specifically targeted Christian villages such as Maaloula, in September, and more recently Sadad, where 45 people were killed. Such incidents demonstrate what is happening….
“In Libya, Christians have been murdered for failing to agree to convert to Islam. The fall in the number of Christians across the region is very evident in Iraq.
In Iraq, the violence is increasing. It is the Sunnis against the Shi’ites; the Kurds against the Turks, against the Arabs; the federalists against the separatists; the nationalists against the international jihadists; anti-Government versus pro-Government. Underneath all those levels of disagreement, the region’s indigenous, long-suffering, besieged remnant Christians will be the victims of every contact targeted by all forces. They are the target of every one of those groups.”
Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist MP for Strangford)
“The fact is that Christians face persecution and harassment in more countries than any other faith group.” Mark Lazarowicz (Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith)
“…the depressing paradox that some of the worst persecution is taking place in notional democracies… In some cases, the Christian population would be better looked after under a dictatorship—such as in Syria under President Assad—than in a country that is notionally democratic. This is not simply a matter of saying that a whole load of democratic rights will follow on from religious freedoms. We must ensure that religious and individual freedoms go hand in hand and that they do not find themselves in conflict with each other.” Mark Field (Conservative MP for cities of London and Westminster)
“The Minister says that we should not focus too much on Christians—I understand that—but if we accept that argument we should not have complained about the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany because that would have made them a target. I do not necessarily accept all his arguments. He must accept that the overwhelming number of persecutions in the world today are against Christians. That is a fact, and so we have to focus on Christians for better or worse….
“I have been to Iraq, and I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that there is nothing more terrible than what happened to a mother I spoke to. The last time she saw her child was when he went off to church with her husband. The husband was kidnapped and never seen again. The child was murdered just because of his religion—for no other reason. My friend and I will never forget those conversations, because those attacks revealed an appalling level of hate. We invaded Iraq and we have a responsibility, so we cannot pass by on the other side. Maybe we invaded for good reasons, but we do have a responsibility.” Sir Edward Leigh (Conservative MP for Gainsborough)
“…there is a risk of the Foreign Office not appreciating the real growing concern about the global persecution of Christians…. There is a global issue about the persecution of Christians in a number of defined countries. If he looks around, he will discover that what the House wants to hear is what the Foreign Office will be doing differently to address that persecution.” ” Sir Tony Baldry (Conservative MP for Banbury)
“Open Doors has warned that Christians are on the verge of extinction in Iraq, where their population has fallen from 1.2 million in the early 1990s to just 333,000 today. In Iran, Christians have had to flee their homes or the country, Muslims who have renounced Islam face the death penalty and Christians are being sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine. The special rapporteur on human rights in Iran reported that more than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, including Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for this work with the house churches.
“…Open Doors ranked Saudi Arabia second on its world watch list, with only North Korea ahead of it. Conversion to a religion other than Islam is punishable by death, and Christian worshippers risk imprisonment, lashing, deportation and torture. It is important to note that last month saw the elections, mostly uncontested, to the Human Rights Council, of which Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, as well as China, are now members. I echo the comments I made about the Commonwealth club. If these countries are to be members of the Human Rights Council, they need to be demonstrating in their own countries that they are putting respect for human rights into practice.” Kerry McCarthy (Labour MP for Bristol East)
“There is a severe danger, as we start to celebrate the feast of Christmas in this country, that Christianity will be almost completely erased from the traditional middle east Holy Land of the Bible. Joseph would not now be advised to take Mary to Egypt to avoid the dangers of Herod, because Jesus would just not have been safe there today….
“Every week, because of my responsibilities in this House, I read the excellent newspaper the Church Times, and every week it has heart-rending stories of Christians being persecuted in Pakistan, Syria, Egypt and a whole host of other countries. Those stories never get reported in the mainstream newspapers. There is serious under-reporting of what is happening to Christians, many of whom—this is true of generations of Christians throughout the centuries—are being evicted, persecuted and driven from their homelands.” Sir Tony Baldry (Conservative MP for Banbury)
“it is particularly painful that in Afghanistan, where there has been so much suffering and sacrifice by our troops and where so much aid and assistance has been given, no churches at all are left, and Christians are unable to meet in public because they have been subject to numerous cases of kidnapping, assassinations and abductions.
The same applies in Iraq. Canon Andrew White, who has been mentioned, has said that Christians in Iraq
“are frightened even to walk to church because they might come under attack. All the churches are targets… We used to have 1.5 million Christians, now we have probably only 200,000 left… There are more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than there are here….
“There is a growing problem in Africa, where Islamist extremism has penetrated much of what is happening in many countries in terms of uprisings and destabilisation, for example. In Nigeria, there is a serious attempt by Boko Haram to create an Islamic state and to annihilate Christians and Christianity. I could also mention Kenya, Eritrea, where the situation is particularly bad, and the Central African Republic, among others.” Nigel Dodds (Democratic Unionist MP for Belfast North)
“We can go beyond the Islamic countries to Korea, where 70,000 Christians languish in prison, some of them in the most horrible conditions. I do not want to start telling lots of individual stories, but one struck me in particular. We found in Northern Ireland during the troubles that people can get numbed by numbers—they come to be seen as just statistics, rather than as highlighting the real suffering behind them—but 6,000 Christians are languishing in prison No. 15 in North Korea. They are regularly brought out on a Sunday, and two people are selected and paraded in front of the rest of their fellow Christians, stabbed with pointed bamboos and called on to renounce their faith because then the torture will then stop. Many of them, of course, finish up being murdered because they will not renounce their faith. Leaving aside the huge numbers, that is the kind of horror and individual human suffering we are talking about.” Sammy Wilson (Democratic Unionist MP for East Antrim)
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