Government's misleading advice fuels persecution of Pakistani Christians, says report

Pakistani Christians protesting for greater governmental protection.Reuters

Misleading government guidance is fuelling the persecution of Christians fleeing Pakistan, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a cross-bench member of the House of Lords, said he had visited a refugee camp in Thailand where Pakistani Christians "are kept in degrading conditions" and "left to fester" while their asylum applications took years to process.

Alton said Home Office guidance was used to justify this treatment because Christians fleeing Pakistan are not at "a real risk of persecution", according to the government's country information.

"The official line of the UK government is that there is no persecution, the reality is the opposite of that and our report dispenses with that illusion," said the Catholic peer.

"We need to dispense with the fiction that the Christian minority, and other minorities are treated fairly and justly. There is outright persecution and we should not hesitate in saying so," he added.

Alton was speaking at the launch of a report entitled 'Freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan and UK government policy'. The inquiry was conducted by an all-party group, of which Alton is vice-chair.

The report urged the government to change its information and recognise the "real risk of persecution" faced by Christians and other minority groups such as Ahmadi Muslims and Hindus. Persecution in Pakistan, according to the report, comes "in the form of physical violence and psychological torture at the hands of State- and non-State actors".

Pakistan is 96 per cent Islamic with Christians making up just 1.59 per cent of the overall population. However "Christians experience more violence in Pakistan than almost anywhere else" according to persecution charity Open Doors, which ranks the country as 6th on its list of the worst places to live as a Christian.

The country's infamous blasphemy laws carry the death sentence for insulting the Prophet Mohammad. These laws "continue to be abused to settle personal scores, particularly against minorities including Christians", Open Doors said.

Despite this, Pakistan is the biggest recipient of British aid, having received more than £1 billion in the last couple of years.

The cross-party inquiry urged the Department for International Development to ensure aid is only given to organisations that can prove they uphold freedom of religion.

"We should be demanding that British aid is used to protect minorities and to staunch the flow of refugees," said Alton at the report launch.