Religious Freedom

od_logo.pngChristians on the Left is proud to support the work of Open Doors UK. Zoe Smith, head of advocacy, writes for us about religious freedom:

How do you protect persecuted religious minorities? Pledge to do so in the Labour Party Manifesto.

It’s a simple yet remarkably effective solution. We may wake up to a Labour Government on 9 June. If so, we want to wake up to one fully committed and mandated to protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief – speaking out for some of the most marginalised people around the world.

At Open Doors – a charity which supports Christians facing persecution for their faith around the world – we are calling for all parties to commit to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief in this election, by:

  1. Each party leader publicly committing to promote and protect this right
  2. A manifesto commitment to freedom of religion or belief
  3. A manifesto commitment to ensure that post-Brexit trade deals are utilised to promote and protect human rights.

Why are we so bothered about this? Firstly – human rights are so important to the UK.

The UK is a proud nation and a long-term champion of human rights and democracy. This is the nation that established the Magna Carta; the nation that led the world in saying ‘no’ to slavery under Wilberforce; the nation that said prisoners – the pariahs of society – deserved better under Elizabeth Fry; the nation which stood up against the Holocaust, which hosted the first meeting of the United Nations and which took a central role in proposing and drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and a breadth of subsequent international human rights law).od_pic1.jpg

Human rights are not something we have grudgingly accepted. Saying loudly that the individual matters – that the weakest and often least popular elements of society deserve to be treated with dignity and respect – is an intrinsic part of our country’s history. Let’s make sure it’s an intrinsic part of our future too. Not only in our own country, but around the world.

Secondly, Article 18 – the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief – is so often misinterpreted, maligned and weakened around the world. Yet it protects the very essence of what it is to be human – the freedom to think what you want to think; to believe what you want to believe; and the freedom to choose and change that belief without fear of reprisal.

This may not seem like a big deal for those of us living in the United Kingdom in 2017 – although active oppression of this right has been a reality in our nation’s recent history – but it can mean life or death (or living a half-life) in an alarming number of countries around the world today.

Let me take three examples from Open Doors’ World Watch List (an annual piece of research which ranks the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian).

In India, ranked #15 on the 2017 World Watch List, the right to freedom of religion or belief is a big deal for sisters Meena* and Sunita* who were beaten and left to die by fellow villagers for converting from Hinduism to Christianity. This right is a big deal for the son of Pastor Aminu*, from Northern Nigeria (#12), whose place at law school was revoked when they discovered that he was a Christian. This right is also a big deal for Iraqi Christians who long to return home but dare not do so for fear that their neighbours might turn against them again as many did when ISIS overran their town (we are calling on our government and the UN to ensure equal rights in Iraq (#7) – sign the petition online).

od_pic2.jpgThis is not just a Christian problem. The right to freedom of religion or belief is denied to followers of all faiths and none around the world – to the Baha’i who have faced constant persecution since they were founded in Iran; to the Rohingya Muslim community in Burma who are hounded by the state and disowned by all around them; to atheists in Bangladesh, many of whom have been brutally murdered by Islamist extremists; to Jehovah’s Witnesses, recently denounced as extremists by a Russian court and forbidden to gather in that country. The list goes on…

As part of a globalised world, it is vital that all parties in this election clearly demonstrate – through word and deed – their concern for these people and their commitment to this right (i) in this election, (ii) during Brexit negotiations and (iii) when forming trade deals with countries who actively persecute – or allow the persecution of – their citizens because of their religion or belief.

*Names changed for security reasons

Zoe Smith is Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland

Open Doors has launched a seven year campaign Hope for the Middle East. Find out more online, or email the advocacy team at advocacy@opendoorsuk.org.

Open Doors is not a party political organisation, and works with Christians and others in all parties to support those facing persecution for their faith.

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