Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

UK launches Christian persecution inquiry

Foreign Secretary says Christianity disappearing from Middle East heartland

Pakistani rights activists Tahira Abdullah celebrates after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Asia Bibi who was convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan. AP
Pakistani rights activists Tahira Abdullah celebrates after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Asia Bibi who was convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan. AP

The UK launches an independent inquiry on Wednesday into the persecution of Christians worldwide after warning that the religion is being wiped out in the Middle East.

Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said the inquiry will recommend practical steps to defend the rights of more than 200 million Christians worldwide who are at risk of persecution.

Mr Hunt cited the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East as the reason to act, saying it had fallen from 20 per cent of the population of the region a century ago to five per cent today.

“Step by agonising step, we are witnessing the erosion of Christianity as a living religion in its heartland,” Mr Hunt wrote in an article for The Telegraph newspaper.

“With Christianity on the verge of extinction in its birthplace, it is time for concerted action that begins to turn the tide.”

Five countries from the region are among eleven countries where the levels of persecution against Christians are described as “extreme”, according to a watchlist published last month by Christian charity Open Doors. North Korea was listed as the most dangerous country in the world for Christians.

The five are Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Syria. Mr Hunt also cited Egypt where a suicide bomber targeted a Christian cathedral in 2017 killing 17 people.

He also told of speaking with an Iraqi doctor whose patients had threatened her with beheading when they learned that she was a Christian.

The inquiry – first mooted last month - is being headed by Philip Mounstephen, the bishop of Truro, in southwest England.

The bishop will be travelling abroad to unspecified countries as part of his inquiry, according to the Foreign Office.

Mr Hunt said that he would seek to harness the UK’s diplomatic service to promote the cause of persecuted Christians.

The UK has a chequered recent history of protecting minorities with an all-party group of MPs criticising the government’s response to the Rohingya crisis.

The MPs said that the UK did not do enough to turn international outrage over the treatment of the Muslim minority into effective action to prevent the killings, according to a 2017 report.

“I hope that at a minimum it will lead to the British government being more consistently outspoken, using its diplomatic networks to better defend persecuted Christians, ensuring our aid policy genuinely does not discriminate on religious grounds, for or against any religion,” Benedict Rogers, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, wrote in a blog.

The Foreign Office declined to say how much the review headed by the bishop would cost but he has been asked to report back to the Foreign Secretary in April with his recommendations.

Both men are due to give further details at the launch of inquiry on Wednesday when they will be accompanied by a victim of persecution, according to officials.

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The launch comes in the week that Pakistan’s top court upheld its decision to overturn the conviction and death sentence of Christian woman Asia Bibi for blasphemy.

She was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed during a dispute with her neighbours and spent eight years on death row before being cleared.

Updated: January 29, 2019 07:07 PM

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