Chris Evans MP (Islwyn) (Lab): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the extent of persecution of Christians in (a) the Middle East and (b) North Africa.
Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP (Bournemouth East) (Con): Conflict and instability in the Middle East and North Africa have made the plight of Christians and other religious minorities a significant concern. In many cases religious minorities are facing extremely difficult circumstances. Many communities are suffering, and indeed some countries risk seeing the disappearance of communities that have existed there peacefully for centuries.
We deplore all discrimination against religious minorities and constraints on their freedom to practise their faith. We regularly urge all governments in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure the protection of all religious minorities. We encourage them to develop inclusive political systems that represent all of their citizens.
We back our words with actions, working proactively in countries where we can to tackle these issues. For example, in Yemen the Middle East and North Africa Conflict Pool is delivering a grassroots community reconciliation initiative to ease tensions between different communities. In Syria a number of British Government funded projects have brought together religious leaders from all denominations (including Alawi, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Sunnis) to foster greater understanding between faiths and support reconciliation. In Tunisia, our Arab Partnership Initiative funds a project run by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Democracy which considers, amongst other things, the protection of religious minorities under the new constitution.
Fiona Bruce MP (Congleton) (Con): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps his Department has taken to encourage the Iranian government to fulfil its obligations to uphold religious freedoms under Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP (Bournemouth East) (Con): We remain deeply concerned by the detention and ill treatment of all prisoners of conscience in Iran, and the ongoing discrimination against Christians and other minority religious groups. We have called for the Iranian government to protect the rights of all minority groups in Iran and end the persecution of individuals on the basis of their faith, most recently during our representations to the United Nations Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights in Iran on 31 October.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the status of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Advisory Group on freedom of religion or belief; and when the group is expected to next meet.
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con): The Advisory Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief, comprised of civil society experts on this topic, is a Sub-Group of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights. It operates under my Chairmanship and directly informs Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy and activities in this area; and reports to the main Advisory Group. The Sub-Group has met twice so far, on 24 March and 14 October 2014. It is next expected to meet in the Spring.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the government of Egypt’s commitment to freedom of religion and the case for political reconciliation in Egypt were amongst the issues raised by the Prime Minister in his meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister on 27 October.
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con): The Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), raised international concerns about the human rights situation and political inclusiveness in Egypt with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shukri on 27 October.
The Egyptian constitution contains protection for freedom of religious belief and it is important that this is respected. The British Government will continue to raise concerns with the Egyptian authorities and to encourage them to promote and defend the freedom of religion.
We believe that a genuinely open political process, in which all political groups are able to participate, offers the best prospect of long-term political stability in Egypt. Shukri assured the Prime Minister that Parliamentary elections would take place in the coming months.