It is an “inconvenient truth that the overwhelming majority of persecuted religious believers are Christians”, an interim report on the UK government’s response to the persecution of Christians says. The report, by the Bishop of Truro, former CMS Executive Leader Philip Mounstephen, was commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The interim report details the scale of persecution and says that 80 per cent of people facing religious persecution around the world are Christians. Bishop Philip is now preparing his final report which will look at the UK government’s response to the persecution.
In his report, Bishop Philip stresses the need to protect the religious rights of all people, regardless of their faith. “Persecution on grounds of religious faith is a global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity”, he said. “Reports including that of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on ‘Freedom of Religion and Belief’ suggest that religious persecution is on the rise, and it is an ‘ever-growing threat’ to societies around the world.
“Though it is impossible to know the exact numbers of people persecuted for their faith, based on reports from different NGOs, it is estimated that one third of the world’s population suffers from religious persecution in some form, with Christians being the most persecuted group.
“This despite the fact that freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental right of every person. This includes the freedom to change or reject one’s own belief system.”
In a statement published at the launch of the interim report, Bishop Philip said: “I have to say that although I am personally experienced in the life of the global Church having visited it South America, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and in many other places as well, I am nonetheless deeply shocked by the scale, the scope and the severity of this phenomenon.
“Whilst I make no claim for the work we have done to be comprehensive I very much hope that it will set us up well to analyse the way that the Foreign Office has responded to this phenomenon and indeed could respond to this phenomenon in the future.
“I will be making some clear recommendations to the Foreign Secretary which I hope very much he will be able to put into practice so that Britain can use its significant influence and diplomatic muscle to address an issue which I believe is one of gross injustice that we face in the world today.”
The interim report provides examples of persecution from around the world, as well as details of restrictions Christians face when attempting to follow their faith.
“Violent persecution exists in many forms”, the report says. “Firstly there is mass violence which regularly expresses itself through the bombing of churches, as has been the case in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia, whereby the perpetrators raise levels of fear amongst the Christian community and attempt to suppress the community’s appetite to practice its right to public expression of freedom of religion and belief.
“State militaries attacking minority communities which practice a different faith to the country’s majority also constitutes a violent threat to Christian communities such as the Kachin and Chin people of Myanmar and the Christians of the Nuba mountains of Sudan. The torture of Christians is widespread in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Eritrean prisons, and beatings in police custody are widely reported in India.
“Extrajudicial killings and the enforced and involuntary disappearance of Christians are also widespread. These violent manifestations of persecution can be perpetrated by the state as has been reported by international jurists in the case of the murders taking place within DPRK prisons and as was allegedly seen in the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh in Malaysia. These acts are also perpetrated by non-state actors such as Muslim extremists who systematically target and kidnap Christian girls in Pakistan and in the recent murder of Pastor Leider Molina in Colombia by a guerrilla/paramilitary group.”
In a “Region by Region Analysis”, the report also indicates lower level of restrictions on the rights of Christians to manifest their faith, including in Latin America, where laws designed to protect the rights of indigenous groups are being misused to prevent churches opening.
The report cited a 1998 decision by the constitutional court of Columbia which upheld the right of traditional authorities to enforce participation in traditional religious beliefs on indigenous reserves. “This has since been used as precedent in lower courts and by indigenous authorities seeking to prohibit churches on indigenous reserves”, the report says. “As part of a legitimate attempt to try and preserve indigenous traditions, indigenous groups do at times take the illegitimate (yet legal) step of closing down churches so as to try and encourage converts to return to traditional beliefs and practices and in the process forcibly displace those who refuse to do so.
“Examples of converts from indigenous communities being refused access to utilities and services, as well as female converts being ostracised by the wider community and losing custody of children so as to avoid the children converting to Christianity, have been reported by Open Doors.
“It is vital that indigenous and rural traditions are protected, but this should not come at the expense of individuals within indigenous communities who decide to convert to another religion.”
Bishop Philip concludes his report by saying that his conclusions and recommendations “may be uncomfortable to hear”. He said: “The challenge for ministers and FCO civil servants will be to turn these into workable solutions that can be implemented.
“The challenge for the rest of our community will be to partner with some of the finest diplomats in the world to ensure that the freedoms that Britain was at the forefront of creating become a reality for both Christians, and people of all faiths and none, around the world today.”
Responding to the report, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described it as “a truly sobering read”.
Thanking the Bishop and his team, he said: “The interim report comes just after the appalling attacks at Easter on churches across Sri Lanka, the devastating attack on two mosques in Christchurch, and most recently the San Diego synagogue shooting.
“There is nothing more medieval than to hate someone on the basis of their faith. That it is on the rise should shock us all.
“I look forward to seeing the Bishop’s final report in the summer, and identifying further specific steps the FCO can take to do more to address the fate of persecuted Christians around the world.”