Parliamentarians “determined to fight for freedom”

At a Parliamentary meeting yesterday the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief – officers, members and stakeholders – highlighted their determination to fight for freedom of religion or belief around the world.

The All Party Group is genuinely all party – its officers are cross benchers, Conservative, Labour, SNP and DUP members – and it combines MPs and members of the House of Lords committed to this cause.

Baroness Berridge, the founder of the Group in the last Parliament and now Co Chair, emphasises that “Whether it involves Shias in Pakistan, Yazidis in Iraq, Baha’is in Iran, or Christians in Syria, the fact you are ‘the other, defined by religious difference, is a factor that determines these people’s fate. There was a clear commitment in the Conservative manifesto that: ‘We will stand up for the freedom of people of all religions—and non-religious people—to practise their beliefs in peace and safety, for example by supporting persecuted Christians in the Middle East’. The Group is keen to see how this commitment will be worked out in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and DfID under this Government – and encourage and support positive steps forward.”

Vice Chair Lord Alton of Liverpool underlines that “Understanding authentic religion and the forces that threaten it is more of a foreign affairs imperative than ever before, and the resources we put into promoting Article 18 should reflect that reality. I hope that freedom of religion and belief will be a specific priority for this Government.”

Group Treasurer Jeremy Lefroy MP stated in the House last year that “It is up to the UK Government, in whatever way they interact with another Government, in Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere around the world, to oppose any discrimination against and persecution of minorities simply because of who they are, and wherever that discrimination and persecution are taking place. It is for the UK Government at each and every opportunity, whether it be through development, military, diplomatic or even economic relations, to make that point. It is a duty to protect minority citizens and give them equal rights with others.”

Jim Shannon MP is the Chair of the Group. He said in Parliament “I have spoken on it many times, but it continues to be an issue, and this is a grand opportunity to underline that. I feel extremely passionate about representing those in my constituency, other constituencies and elsewhere in the world who face hardships—in this case, those who are persecuted for their beliefs.”

The meeting was addressed by Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In the recent debate on the Queen’s Speech she said “In the coming years we will continue to champion freedom of religion or belief at the Foreign Office. Where freedom of religion or belief is protected, extremist ideologies should not be able to take root. “

The APPG took this opportunity to warmly congratulate His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, following the announcement in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of his award of an OBE.

He commented on his award by saying “I am humbled by this award because I see it as my role and duty to advocate for religious freedom as part of my ministry. While I am thankful for this great honour, it also comes with a sense of sadness that in the 21st Century we still need to defend people’s God-given rights and freedoms in this way. I consider this an award to every person who has worked with and supported me along the way and pray that God rewards and blesses them for all they have done and all they will continue to do.”

Baroness Berridge said “The APPG recognises how well-deserved this honour is: Bishop Angaelos has worked tirelessly in this cause. As Parliamentarians we can echo his words: it is part of our role and duty to advocate for Freedom of Religion or Belief; we share his sadness that this becomes more pressing with every passing day.”