First FoRB written questions of new Parliament

Q Asked by Jim Shannon (Strangford): Middle East: Religious Freedom (271)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions his Department has had with governments in the Middle East to encourage a better understanding of human rights provision relating to inter-faith marriages.

A  Answered by: Alistair Burt on 27 June 2017​
As far as we are aware there have been no such discussions in recent times. The British Government is clear, however, that discrimination on the basis of faith is a violation of universal human rights. The right not to be discriminated against by the state extends to the provision of marriage.

Q Asked by The Lord Bishop of Coventry on 21 June 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (HL109)
Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Indonesia in respect of Indonesia’s blasphemy laws following the two-year prison sentence handed down on 9 May to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the former Christian Governor of Jakarta, for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam.

A Answered by: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Answered on 29 June 2017
In response to the verdict, the UK, along with other EU member states, issued a statement through the EU Mission to Indonesia which stated that laws criminalising blasphemy when applied in a discriminatory manner can have a serious inhibiting effect on freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The statement called on the Indonesian government, its institutions and its people to continue the long standing tradition of tolerance and pluralism in Indonesia.

Our Ambassador to Indonesia publicly expressed concern about the blasphemy verdict against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. In his meetings with political and religious leaders, the Ambassador has actively cautioned against mixing issues of race, ethnicity and religion with politics.

Q Asked by The Lord Bishop of Coventry on 21 June 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (HL110)
Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of freedom of religion or belief in Indonesia.

A Answered by: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Answered on: 29 June 2017
Indonesia has a strong tradition of religious diversity and tolerance, with freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution of 1945 and more recently in Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights which upholds freedom of religion as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, there continue to be localised instances of religious conflict where the rights of religious minority groups have not been protected.

We have made representations encouraging the Indonesian government to ensure that blasphemy laws are not applied in a discriminatory manner, including against those who do not practice one of the six religions recognised under Indonesian law. We therefore welcome recent statements by Indonesian President Joko Widodo reaffirming his commitment to pluralism and religious diversity.

Q Asked by Jim Shannon (Strangford) Asked on: 21 June 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Egypt: Christianity (372)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what diplomatic and other support the Government has given to the Egyptian Government as a result of recent attacks on Christian churches in the country.

A Answered by: Alistair Burt on 29 June 2017
Combating sectarian violence in Egypt is a shared objective for the Egyptian and British Governments.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Egypt targeting the Coptic Community, the Prime Minister, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) wrote to the President of Egypt to express her condolences and reiterate the UK’s support for Egypt in its fight against terrorism. The Government continues to work closely with the Egyptian authorities on security and counter-terrorism, including through training Egyptian officers in countering improvised explosive devices and close protection.

The British Government has been clear that freedom of religious belief needs to be protected and that the ability to worship in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. We are concerned about recent reports of sectarian violence in Egypt, and welcome President Sisi’s consistent calls for peaceful coexistence and the Government of Egypt’s expression of support for the rights of Christians and for religious tolerance.

Q Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 21 June 2017 Department for International Development (HL55)
Her Majesty’s Government what action the Department for International Development (DfID) is taking to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which promulgates freedom of religion and belief; how that action relates to (1) Sustainable Development Goal 16, and (2) DfID’s UK aid strategy objectives, and to the allocation of resources; and what steps they are taking to ensure that DfID’s partners and projects do not discriminate on religious grounds.

A Answered by: Lord Bates on 28 June 2017
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) leads the government’s work to promote and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief internationally. DFID works closely with FCO, helping to raise concerns about discriminatory legislation and practices with governments, and funding targeted project work. We are clear that promoting freedom of religion or belief is an important contributor to achieving the UK Aid Strategy’s goals and is directly relevant to Sustainable Development Goal 16 on building peaceful and inclusive societies with access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. DFID’s Partnership Principles include consideration of freedom of religion or belief alongside other human rights.

Q Asked by Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) on 21 June 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Taimoor Raza (414(
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether he has had discussions with the Government of Pakistan on the death sentence for blasphemy placed on Taimoor Raza.

A Answered by: Mark Field on 28 June 2017
The UK remains firmly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. We have repeatedly called upon the Government of Pakistan to end capital punishment and, at a minimum, commit publicly to renewing the previously imposed moratorium on the death penalty. We regularly raise our concerns about freedom of expression and the misuse of the blasphemy laws with the Government of Pakistan at a senior level. Our concerns are reflected in the latest update to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual human rights report.

The Foreign Secretary raised religious tolerance and misuse of the blasphemy laws during his visit to Pakistan in November 2016. My predecessor, my Hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Mr Sharma), discussed the death penalty and the importance we attach to freedom of expression with Kamran Michael, Pakistani Minister for Human Rights, and Barrister Zafarullah Khan, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant for Human Rights, during his visit to Pakistan in January 2017.

The Government will continue to urge Pakistan to honour in practice its human rights obligations, including those related to the death penalty and freedom of expression and religion.