Reported cases of kidnap, rape, murder and forced conversion are ‘tip of the iceberg’
Yesterday in the House of Commons, I spoke in the debate secured by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief, about the need for more to be done to stop people across the world being persecuted because of their beliefs.
The event was particularly relevant coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the United Nations’ landmark declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.
Yesterday was also International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Yesterday, also marked Red Wednesday, when the charity Aid to the Church in Need published its report; Hear Her cries, the kidnapping, forced conversion and sexual victimisation of Christian women and girls.
It is an absolutely harrowing read but it is also an absolutely essential read for anyone who wants to understand the day-to-day reality of life for young Christian women and girls in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, Mozambique, Nigeria and Pakistan.
However, as I said in my speech, it is thoroughly depressing is to think that in the intervening four decades since the UN declaration and with so much other work being done to raise these issues, the world appears to actually have gone backwards in terms of ensuring Freedom of Religion or Belief across great swathes of the world.
The Open Doors 2021 Watch List shows that from North Korea to Afghanistan to Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Yemen Iran, Nigeria and India and many, many other countries, openly practising one’s Christian faith, or expressing a deeply held Christian belief could cost you your life.
And of course, as I said, religious persecution is not exclusively against Christians, it affects people of many religions and beliefs and presents itself in many different ways – discriminatory laws as we have seen in India and Pakistan, ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the horrendous treatment of the Uyghurs in China, direct state suppression and heavy-handed tactics in China and North Korea, as well as increasing terrorist tactic of murdering of men and boys and subjecting women to a life of sexual slavery, by groups like Daesh and Boko Haram.
I also raised the specific cases of 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl Maira Shahbaz who was kidnapped, tortured and raped before being forced to marry one of her attackers. She escaped but because of what has happened and her religion, she and her family are in hiding in fear of their lives. I asked the Minister what is being done to ‘Here Her Cries’ and help grant her asylum in the UK. I also talked about Nigerian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu, who is the only one of 1oo prisoners of Boko Haram kidnapped four years ago, who has not been released because she refused to renounce her faith.
As SNP spokesperson on International Human Rights I am very glad these issues are being recognised by the UK government and that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has pledged continued support to projects supporting those who are targeted, but we must also continue to put pressure on foreign governments to stop this as well.
This is a clip from my speech. You can view it all at https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/8471562e-d714-43c0-8136-9bf5bc8c0777?in=15:30:43#player-tabs