Persecution of Christians: Stephen Kerr MP
Our United Kingdom should be extremely proud of the role we have played advocating religious freedom. Enshrined in our law is the fundamental right to believe or not to believe in any religion without the fear of persecution. People from all religions live and work together for the greater good of our society. We are far from perfect though. Reports of antisemitism in the United Kingdom were the second highest in recorded history in 2018. There were over 45,000 Islamophobic hate crimes committed in 2017/18. Crimes against Catholics rose by 14% in Scotland in 2017/18. There is a lot to work required to combat religious hate crime in our country and I urge politicians of all parties to come together and tackle this issue.
I feel passionately about the subject because I am a member of a religious minority—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—that has a long history of persecution and misrepresentation. Happily, those dark days are largely behind us, but the lessons learned are deeply ingrained and any suggestion of intolerance or persecution of any minority religious group or minority group of any kind is anathema to me. .
The first President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, declared the human right to exercise
“that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family is one of its choicest gifts”.
It is core to my religious belief to respect the religious beliefs of others. This is a respect that is enshrined in the UN declaration of Human Rights which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”We must protect this right and protect the rights of all faith groups and the right to atheism around the world. Within this must be a protection of Christians around the world.
As a member of the UN Security Council, our United Kingdom also has the moral responsibility to protect religious freedom around the world. The persecution of Christians is increasing at an alarming rate, particularly in Asia where it is predicted that 1/3rd of Christians face repression. In China, measures have recently been introduced by President Xi Jinping which have resulted in worshippers being detained, the sale of bibles restricted, and the crucifix being removed from public buildings. The Chinese Government has also banned Christmas in some cities.
India, a country with the proud history of promoting peace and the largest democracy in the world, has recently become the 10th most dangerous country in the world for Christians to live in. A rise in Hindu extremism has resulted in a greater amount of violent attacks on churches and practising Christians. Across Asia and Africa, there has also been a substantial growth in attacks on Christian women, with higher rates of sexual violence, rape and forced marriages in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan.
The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has recently announced a global review into the persecution of Christians. This is a move that I welcome whole-heartedly. This review will make recommendations on the steps our Government can take to protect Christians around the world.
Before this review is complete, I believe that our Government should signify our determination to protect Christians by inviting Asia Bibi political asylum. Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after a group of women said they could not use a bucket she had used for water as she was unclean due to her Christian faith. The accusers claimed that Asia confirmed to have made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad to the group of women, but this was after Asia was beaten up in her own house. She was sentenced to death by hanging.
After various international campaigns, Asia was acquitted of blasphemy in October 2018. The Government of Pakistan, however, signed an agreement with those leading the protests against Asia’ acquittal in November 2018 which barred Asia from leaving the country. This is despite her family having to go into hiding from fear of safety. A bounty of half a million Pakistani rupees has also been offered to anyone who can kill Asia. It is obvious that Asia’s life is in danger whilst in Pakistan and that is why we must give her political asylum.
Britain should be playing a leading role in protecting Christians around the world. The review announced by the Government is the first step in our becoming that. I look forward with anticipation to what it recommends. But we deliver more than words. Around 250 Christians a month are killed due to their faith and millions are oppressed. We must be brave and make it clear to the world that we, as a Christian nation, do not tolerate the persecution of Christians anywhere.