APPG Statement on the Arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen

The arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen is yet another example of China’s increasing restrictions on fundamental human rights. Members of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief express their utmost concern and condemnation at Cardinal Zen’s arrest. 


The APPG calls upon the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to continue their advocacy for Cardinal Zen, along with advocacy for others detained for their support of pro-democracy protestors. 


The crack-down on human rights in Hong Kong deserves immediate attention from the FCDO. The arrest of a leading figure such as Cardinal Zen reflects the grave situation in Hong Kong and the continued threat to human rights.



An Urgent Question on the matter was asked of the Government and can be found here.


APPG Statement on the sentencing of Mubarak Bala

The APPG expresses its utmost concern as regards the sentencing of Mubarak Bala, President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, to 24 years in prison, for expressing what were deemed to be blasphemous opinions on Facebook.

The APPG urges the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office to work towards securing Mubarak Bala’s release. We ask that the department renews efforts to promote an end to blasphemy laws where they are used to curb freedom of religion or belief – particularly within the Commonwealth.

The imprisonment of Mubarak Bala reflects a further deterioration in the protection of freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria. The APPG calls on the UK Government to do more in response to such egregious violations of human rights.


This statement was updated on Thursday April 7th

International Day of Conscience 2022

On this International Day of Conscience, we as an APPG recognise the challenges that must be overcome to ensure freedom of conscience for all and its relevance to Freedom of Religion or Belief. We call on government leaders to do more to release prisoners of conscience and put an end to imprisonment on such grounds. In particular, we support the immediate safe release of Mubarak Bala, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Leah Sharibu, and Nguyễn Bắc Truyển – about whom more information can be found here.

As an APPG we work to advocate on behalf of prisoners of conscience in different countries and aim to raise awareness of those who are imprisoned for holding different religious or belief views from that of the majority in which they live. We are always grateful to parliamentarians who support this work, and who use their voice to advocate for those who cannot do so. 

We must not ignore the overlap between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of conscience. Globally, thousands of people suffer imprisonment for speaking or acting in accord with their conscience. This is a clear violation of human rights and threatens freedom of religion or belief more broadly. 

On this International Day of Conscience, we urge more parliamentarians to advocate on behalf of a prisoner of conscience to help raise awareness of their cause, ask for action from officials in this country and abroad, and to safeguard against further violations of human rights, particularly as pertains to freedom of religion or belief. Together, we believe that we can live in a free society where freedom of religion or belief for all is a reality. 


APPG Statement on Peshawar Mosque Attack 4th March

The APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief condemns the attack of 4th March, 2022, at which 63 people died and more than 200 were left critically injured after a deadly blast during Friday prayers in a historical Shia Mosque in Peshawar, Northwest, Pakistan. ISIS’ local chapter Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) claimed responsibility for the attack.

The APPG notes with regret that this is one of many examples of violence enacted by IS-K against Shias in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The targeting of the Shia community ranges from attacks on religious gatherings and processions, to killings of those with distinguished careers such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, and students. The APPG condemns all such acts and urges for the safe return of those missing Shia who have been forcibly abducted. 

The APPG is concerned by this latest large-scale attack, and notes that it coincides with increasing use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan to target the Shia community. In 2020, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 40 blasphemy cases were registered against members of the Shia community in a single month. This must stop. The APPG urges Pakistani authorities and leaders to abolish blasphemy laws and put an end to such an outdated and discriminatory practice. 

Finally, the APPG urges that the Pakistani media does not attempt to erase the Shia identity of the victims, and expresses its support and solidarity with those of the Shia community being attacked.

Islamophobia Awareness Month

This Islamophobia Awareness Month, the APPG wants to draw the UK Government’s attention to the ways in which restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief can disproportionately affect Muslims. Many Muslims globally face challenges to their exercising of their freedom of religion or belief due to the discrimination, Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim hatred they face. 


The APPG FoRB notes with increasing concern the situation in Xinjiang, China, where Uyghur Muslims have a myriad of human rights violated. The APPG asks that the Government recognises such violations as a genocide and ensure goods produced through China’s profiting from the forced labour of Uyghur people does not enter the UK supply chain. 


The APPG also expresses concern for the Rohingya Muslims who have been driven out of Myanmar and now seek refuge in Bangladesh. All too often they face discrimination and suspicion because of their religion. The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, reported in March of this year that “unchecked Buddhist nationalists peddling the view that Islam threatens to ‘overrun’ the country and that Buddhists must stand up and ‘save’ their way of life have contributed to egregious atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.” Hundreds of mosques, shrines, and Muslim cemeteries in Myanmar have been destroyed. 


Finally, the APPG notes that digital media also plays a role in the spreading of harmful stereotypes about Muslims and Islam, and that COVID-19 has provided a catalyst for such online abuse. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, online manifestations of harmful Muslim stereotypes have spread. In India, #coronajihad went viral on Twitter after the Government announced high levels of infection among the Muslim community. Similarly, in Sri Lanka misinformation circulated online that Muslims deliberately disseminated COVID-19 in the country. The APPG calls on the Government to work with social media companies to ensure that safeguards are put in place to protect vulnerable communities from targeted online hate speech, abuse, and the spread of nefarious misinformation. 


Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred remains poorly understood and discussions on how to address its effects are often fraught with tension. As such, the APPG calls on the UK Government to persevere in cross-party efforts when it comes to this issue. As the Special Rapporteur has noted, “a nuanced approach to understanding Islamophobia will be critical to ensuring that the relevant educational, social and policy responses are identified to effectively address a complex and context-specific challenge, in conformity with international human rights laws and standards.”   

APPG for the Pakistani Minorities: Abductions, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Women and Girls in Pakistan

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistani Minorities has launched a new report in Westminster today entitled Abductions, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Women and Girls in Pakistan.


The cases of Christian or Hindu girls between the ages of 12 – 25, abducted, converted to Islam and immediately married to their abductors have been increasing steadily in recent years in Pakistan. Provisional estimates in a study ‘Forced Marriages and Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan’ suggest that up to 1,000 religious minority women and girls face this fate every year. However, the true numbers may never be ascertained. All these cases meet with impunity. Usually, after the abduction, the victim’s relatives plead with the local police to file a First Information Report (FIR). The police are usually reluctant or fail to investigate the cases properly. Instead, after a few days, the parents are often handed the conversion certificate, as well as the marriage certificate, and told that the girl has voluntarily converted to Islam, married and is living with her new ‘husband’.

In court, the issue is often portrayed as a religious issue and the perpetrators’ lawyers appeal to the religious sentiments of judges, by suggesting that the girls have voluntarily converted to Islam. In the majority of these cases, the decisions will go in favour of the perpetrators and the girls lose all contact with their families.

One reason why this practice is flourishing in the Sindh and Punjab provinces is because of the many actors playing their part in keeping the practice alive. For example, the clerics play a key role in the conversion process and marrying the victims and the perpetrators within a short time after. In the volatile politics of Pakistan any efforts to apprehend any religious leader can be construed as an attack on Islam. For this reason, such practices of the clerics are tolerated by government officials and politicians, as confrontation could bring about further conflict amongst the wider public.

The Inquiry revealed that the issue of abductions, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority women and girls is a serious issue for the vulnerable and marginalised Hindu and Christian communities in Pakistan. Also, based on the available evidence, the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan so far have failed to take action to address the issue and protect its most vulnerable citizens.

The UK and Pakistan have a special relationship that should be used to speak for the voiceless Christian and Hindu religious minority women and girls. Pakistan has been the highest recipient of the UK Aid for the past few years.

Also, education for girls is the UK’s international priority. Yet abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages issue represents a grave violation of the human rights of minority girls, it reduces any chance they might have of studying and breaking out of the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and early marriages. Addressing this issue is a crucial step, to keep these girls in school and so ensure a better future for them. 

Press Statement: APPG FoRB and the Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief make freedom of religion or belief a priority for the 2022 Ministerial.

Today the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG FoRB) and Fiona Bruce MP, the UK Prime Miniaster’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, hosted a reception marking Red Wednesday, a Catholic initiative that offers chance to raise awareness of the persecution Christians and those of other religions or beliefs face around the world. The event was attended by members of both Houses as well as leaders in the FoRB human rights sector in the UK.

At the event, Fiona Bruce MP called for “a time for action, to reassert our commitment to advocate to end the persecution for all”. She stated the importance that the Government places on this issue and highlighted the important contribution these groups make to the countries they live in around the world, that “communities are stronger when they include everyone”.

Fiona Bruce also launched the #EndThePersecution campaign – an initiative to raise awareness of this human right ahead of the 2022 International Ministerial. The 2022 Ministerial is a forum for world leaders, ministers and policymakers of governments around the world, that will be hosted by the UK in July 2022. Leading up to the Ministerial next year, organisations in the FoRB sector will run 100 FoRB focussed events across the UK as part of FoRB Fringe. These fringe events and the Ministerial Conference will have a special focus on protecting at-risk religious or belief communities.

The Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, spoke about the role her department has taken to protect at-risk religious or belief communities and highlighted recent efforts in Myanmar, Iraq and Afghanistan. She talked about the UK’s presidency of the G7 and how the Government has used this role to “make freedom of religion or belief a priority”. She also highlighted the steps the FCDO has taken since the Bishop of Truro’s Review in 2019 which called for wide-reaching measures across the FCDO to safeguard at-risk religious or belief communities around the world. Finally, Liz Truss called for 2022 to be a “year of action” with the upcoming Ministerial and other opportunities.

Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the APPG FoRB, spoke about the role of parliamentarians to be “the voice for those who have no voices” and encouraged MPs “to work to secure the freedoms they enjoy for others abroad”. Finally, Jim Shannon shared his hopes for the 2022 Ministerial, hoping that it would “not only shine a light on what the UK is doing to promote FoRB internationally but the importance of working with other states to make FoRB a reality for all”.

Alok Sharma MP also shared his vision for the upcoming ministerial stating that “great opportunity to bring ministers around the world to talk about an issue which is vitally important” and the importance of holding perpetrators to account for FoRB violations.

Other speakers included:

·       Dr Homira Rezai, chair of Hazara Committee in the UK and a leader of the #StopHazaraGenocide campaign, highlighted the persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While all minorities within Afghanistan are at risk, the Hazara Committee is at “extreme risk of Genocide”. Dr Rezai called for the UK Government to ensure humanitarian aid swiftly reaches Hazara villages, which often become isolated over winter. There was also a warning of increasing violence and a request for the British Government to recognise the Hazara’s as a group of special concern.

·       Padideh Sabeti, who shared her experience of growing up in the Baha’i faith in Iran and the discrimination her family after the 1979 revolution. She highlighted that Baha’i experience in Iran is “oppression from cradle to grave”.

·       Neha Parvaiz, a survivor of abduction, forced conversion and sexual violence in Pakistan, shared her story by pre-recorded video for the first time. Her stories showed the isolation and fear victims face. Despite this happening three years ago Neha Parvaiz is still trying to legally dissolve the marriage and has spent years living in hiding, unable to leave her home for fear of a repeat abduction.

This week also marks the 40th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. A three-hour debate will be held in the House of Commons on Thursday 25th November, highlighting the prevalence of human rights abuses against religious or belief communities around the world.

About: The All-Party Parliamentary Group is a cross-party group of 144 parliamentarians who believe that international freedom of religion or belief is a crucial human right who seek to raise its profile in Government, in Parliament, in the media and among the general public. For more information, please visit or email


For more information about End The Persecution campaign, please visit

Jim Shannon’s #RedWednesday Speech

I’d like to start by echoing Fiona’s sentiments and thanking everyone for attending today. As the Chairman of the APPG for FoRB It’s great to see so many people here who strive for justice in the pursuit and defense of FoRB in one room, especially in the shape of civil society actors and stakeholders of the APPG, and I’m grateful to the officers and members of the APPG who stopped by today to hear more about the crucial work you all do. I hope today is mutually beneficial.

As you may already know, Red Wednesday was established by Aid to the Church in Need – a Catholic initiative to stand in solidarity with Christians and those of other religions or beliefs who are persecuted globally, as well as to raise the profile of FoRB more broadly. I would be amiss then, what with the history of the Day being a Catholic one, if I didn’t mention Sir David Amess MP today, for he was always incredibly supportive of Red Wednesday and its endeavours. His funeral was yesterday and with this being the first APPG FoRB event since the death of David, I hope I speak for us all when I say we have lost a truly excellent public servant, a dear friend to many of the Officers and Members of the APPG, and that his sincere conviction in the importance of FoRB is something we should all strive to emulate. So I ask that you all remember David today in your prayers.

At David’s funeral yesterday, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain read a message from Pope Francis, which called on us “to reject the ways of violence, to combat evil with good, and to help build a society of ever greater justice, fraternity, and solidarity.”

These three goals: justice, fraternity, and solidarity; guide so much of our work in FoRB.

In the quest for justice, there should be a great urgency in protecting the right of freedom of religion or belief. Expression of religion or belief lies at the heart of human fulfilment, and when this right is impeded, the very dignity of that person is violated. Of course, the history of Red Wednesday is a Catholic one, and earlier this year Pope Francis described freedom of religion as “the primary and fundamental human right”. I think many of us might agree.

I find a lot of hope in the idea of fraternity in our work for FoRB. One initiative the APPG has been working on is partnering prisoners of conscience with parliamentarians so as to assist advocating and awareness raising efforts. What’s a great joy is hearing from MPs who wish to partner with people who are imprisoned for a faith or belief that is different from their own. In the wider struggle for freedom of religion or belief in our world, it is encouraging to witness not only the cross-party, but the cross-religious and cross-belief nature of this endeavour and I pray that it only serves to strengthen our fight in promoting FoRB.

Finally, I’ll end with the idea of solidarity. A couple of years ago after the launch of a report by one of the APPG’s stakeholders, David Amess said: “All over the world, faith groups like we have here in Southend West suffer as a result of their beliefs, so it’s important to ensure we speak out for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief.”

This is so true. And looking around today at those gathered, and seeing who we have sharing their testimonies after I wrap up my remarks, I am confident when I say that we all understand how crucial it is to speak out for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief.

Here in the UK we’re in a position where we do not fear for our lives after going to church, or for practising Ramadan, or for finding the life of humanist George Eliot (who celebrated her 202nd birthday earlier this week) to resonate more deeply with us than the life of Jesus. We’re all free to do any of the above and many more. Such a position could lead to complacency, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Instead, many of those gathered in this room are simply spurred on to secure the freedoms they enjoy for others abroad.

My hope for the Ministerial in July is that it not only shines a light on what the UK is doing to promote FoRB internationally, but that it also reveals where more can, and indeed should, be done to make FoRB a reality for all.

Statement on Iran Atrocities Tribunal

The All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion of Belief notes with concern the ongoing situation that arose from protests that broke out in Iran on 15th November 2019 following an increase in fuel prices. An internet shut-down followed, with thousands of people injured, detained, or killed. Some are still on death row, awaiting execution for their participation in the protest.

Jim Shannon MP, Chairman of the APPG FoRB, attended part of the Iran Atrocities Tribunal (also known as the Aban Tribunal) on Wednesday 10th November, 2021. A five-day hearing, the Iran Atrocities Tribunal is a people’s tribunal, coinciding with the two-year anniversary of the protest and ensuing violence, with the aim of raising awareness and advocacy for victims of the protest, who continue to seek justice. After hearing the evidence and witness statements, the panel of the tribunal will conclude whether the Iranian State forces committed crimes under international law.

Jim Shannon MP was present for the statement by Maryam Foumani, a journalist who has conducted research on the Aban protests since they occurred in preparation for the Tribunal. Jim also listened to Amir Ansarifar, who testified about the death of his son, Farzad, who was shot amid the protests.

The APPG FoRB welcomes efforts to deliver justice for those arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, or killed, to launch judicial investigations into the perpetrators of violence, and to tackle impunity. It supports the right to peaceful protest without the fear of bloodshed and without fear of being sentenced to execution for doing so. It hopes the Tribunal aids the efforts of victims and victims’ families in their quest for justice.


From left to right: Portia Berry-Kilby (Director of APPG FoRB secretariat), Jim Shannon MP (Chair of APPG FoRB), and Hossein Abedini (National Council of Resistance of Iran, UK Office)

APPG FoRB Statement on the Targeting of Religious Leaders by the Cuban Government Following Nationwide July Protests

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) condemns the Cuban Government’s ongoing targeting of religious leaders following spontaneous protests on 11 July 2021. APPG FoRB Members call on the Foreign Secretary to raise this issue with the Cuban Government at the highest levels.

Spontaneous nationwide protests swept across Cuba on 11 July, thought to be in response to Cuba’s ongoing and severe economic crisis and a record surge in COVID-19 cases, expanding to criticisms of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP)’s decades-long hold on power, crackdown on independent civil society including human rights and pro-democracy movements, and the government’s poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government responded by suppressing the protests. Reports emerged of violence against protesters, including one incident in which an Associated Press photographer was beaten by members of the police and Cuban State Security. One protester was also allegedly shot in the stomach.

 Religious leaders who participated in the peaceful protests have been targeted by the Government. Pastors Yéremi Blanco Ràmirez and Yarian Sierra Madrigal were detained in Matanzas, imprisoned incommunicado for two weeks, then released and fined. In October, they were forced to sign a legal document justifying their arrest and imprisonment in the case of potential future crimes, including participating in unauthorised protests or doing anything interpreted as critical of the communist system. Roman Catholic Priest Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, was beaten and detained incommunicado during the 11 July protests in Camagüey. He was released the following day but is under an official travel ban and has since been targeted with mob-led verbal attacks and vandalism of his parish home.

APPG FoRB Members are particularly concerned by the treatment of Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, who has been detained for months following his arrest by Cuban State Security and paramilitary officers while taking part in a peaceful protest in Palma Soriano on 11 July. He was held incommunicado in Versalles (a State Security Facility in the city of Santiago de Cuba) until August, when he was transferred to the Boniato Maximum Security Prison located outside Santiago de Cuba.

Pastor Rosales Fajardo remains in detention without trial and is facing trumped up criminal charges for ‘disrespect’, ‘public disorder’, ‘criminal incitement’ and ‘assault’. Seven attempts to file for habeas corpus have been denied. On 22 October, his wife was informed that the Government is seeking to impose a 10-year prison sentence for Reverend Rosales Fajardo who, like many Cuban citizens that day, was simply exercising his human right to freedom of assembly by taking part in widespread peaceful protests.

The APPG calls on the UK Government to raise human rights abuses with the Cuban Government, in particular the rights to freedom of assembly, expression, and religion or belief. We also call on the UK Government to publicly raise the case of Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, and to send an observer from the British Embassy in Cuba to his trial once a date is set.