FCO answers written questions on persecution, Iran and China

Lady Hermon MP (North Down) (Independent) asked to what extent the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was assisting persecuted Christians around the world.

Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) David Lidington MP (Aylesbury) (Con) replied: The promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief is one of the UK’s human rights priorities. We regularly raise individual cases and work to combat discriminatory legislation and practices through multilateral systems and targeted project work. In the last month Ministers have made public statements expressing grave concern about persecution of individuals on grounds of their religion or belief in Syria, Pakistan and Iraq.

As an example, in the recent high profile case of Meriam Ibrahim who was forced to leave Sudan because she refused to renounce Christianity, My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister, My Rt Hon Friend Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, My Hon Friend, the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Mr Duddridge) The Minister for Africa, all publicly condemned her sentencing, and called on the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief and international human rights laws. However, Meriam Ibrahim’s case is not an isolated occurrence. This is why we are calling on the Sudanese government to undertake a comprehensive review of its penal code to ensure its laws reflect both its own constitution and international human rights obligations and the values of the Sudanese people.

We are active in our project work in a wide range of countries. In Iraq, we are currently funding a series of grassroots meetings, bringing together people from different faiths to combat sectarian violence. The work is being led by Canon Andrew White, who has played a key role in forming the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq. In Syria, we are funding the training of religious and community leaders from the Sunni, Alawite, Christian, Druze, Armenian and Kurdish communities in active citizenship and dialogue skills in order to help reduce community tensions. We continue to fund training for Syrian activists to document abuses to a criminal law standard with the aim that this documentation could be used in a future process of accountability.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if his Department will make recommendations to the UN Universal Periodic Review of the human rights record of Iran to encourage that state to cease its policies of persecution of members of the Bahá’í community; and if he will make a statement.

Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP (Bournemouth East) (Con): The UK will fully engage in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Iran’s human rights record, due to be considered by the Human Rights Council on 31 October 2014. As at the last UPR, the UK will make a statement and table recommendations on how Iran could improve its approach to human rights. This will include minority religious rights – the UK has repeatedly expressed concern at the persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran, and we will continue to encourage Iran to ensure all its citizens are able to exercise their right to freedom of religion, free from persecution and harassment.

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what recent discussions officials in his Department have had with the Chinese government on upholding the religious freedom of Christians in the Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province.

Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth office) Hugo Swire MP (East Devon) (Con): We have concerns about all restrictions placed on freedom of religion and belief in China, including those placed on Christians in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. We regularly raise our concerns with Chinese counterparts and did so most recently during the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue on 19-20 May 2014. We also raise our concerns publicly through our Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy, last published on 10 April 2014 and updated on 30 June 2014.