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Government orders review of how UK can help persecuted Christians overseas

Jeremy Hunt admits government 'can and must do more' amid rising violence

 

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 26 December 2018 01:01 GMT
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Protests across Pakistan after acquittal of Asia Bibi blasphemy trial

Ministers have ordered an independent inquiry into the persecution of Christians around the world, with the foreign secretary admitting that the UK should be doing more to help.

Jeremy Hunt has appointed the Bishop of Truro, Rt Reverend Philip Mounstephen, to carry out the investigation, which will look into how Britain could improve its work overseas.

The review, due to report by Easter, will assess threats to Christians in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

It was launched after what officials described as a dramatic rise in the oppression of Christians in a number of countries.

The government estimates that 215 million Christians across the world face persecution because of their religious beliefs. Last year, 3,000 were killed because of their faith.

The review will look at how the government can help protect Christians in the same way it does other minorities, including the Yazidi people who faced brutal persecution by Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Announcing the inquiry, Mr Hunt said: “Britain has long championed international religious freedom, and the prime minister underlined our global leadership on this issue when she appointed my excellent colleague Lord Ahmad as her special envoy on freedom of religion or belief. So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority.

“Today I have asked the Bishop of Truro to look at how the British government can better respond to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.

“We can and must do more.”

The announcement follows a number of high-profile cases of persecution against Christians.

According to the charity Open Doors, which highlights violence against followers of the faith, the greatest oppression takes place in North Korea, where Christians are frequently murdered or sent to forced labour camps.

Persecution is described as "extreme" in eight other countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Eritrea.

Earlier this year, the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy, provoked international outrage and piled pressure on the UK government to act.

Although her conviction was overturned in October, nine years after she was first arrested and eight years after she was placed on death row, the case highlighted the plight facing many Christians around the world.

Mr Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, said: “I’m honoured to have been invited to lead this review on an issue close to my heart.

“Part of the Christmas story tells how Jesus was himself the victim of persecution so it seems particularly timely to launch this review at this season.

“I’ll be taking an objective look at how the British government can better respond to the pressing plight of persecuted Christians around the world.”

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