Hope for greater Government commitment to persecuted believers

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has welcomed recent comments from David Cameron on aid to countries with a poor track record on human rights.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr last Sunday, the Prime Minister said that Britain would consider reducing aid to countries that persecute Christians or have discriminatory policies towards homosexuals.

“British aid should have more strings attached in terms of do you persecute people for their faith or their Christianity, or do you persecute people for their sexuality,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr Cameron affirmed that a poor track record on human rights would “determine our aid policy”.

Although the Prime Minister has come under fire for linking aid to the position of Commonwealth countries on homosexuality, BPCA chairman Wilson Chowdhry commended Mr Cameron for taking the persecution of Christians into consideration.

He said the Prime Minister’s comments would “bolster” campaigners seeking equality and justice in Pakistan.

“The manner in which David Cameron spoke suggests a much stronger stance will be implemented when assessing foreign aid distribution with a clear link to human rights performance,” said Mr Chowdhry.

“This is a small step to what we believe will become a significant lever for change in Pakistan.”

Christians, who constitute around only 3 per cent of Pakistan’s population, continue to face severe persecution in the Muslim-majority country.

It is not uncommon for Christians to be killed or beaten for their faith, or kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.

Rights groups blame much of the persecution on the misuse of controversial blasphemy laws, which make insulting the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad a crime punishable by lengthy prison sentences or even death.

The Prime Minister’s comments came one week after former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe called upon the Government to protect Christians as well as homosexuals.

In a speech to the annual Aid to the Church in Need conference, Ms Widdecombe said hedgehogs had a better chance of receiving “earnest representation” than a Christian.

“David Cameron’s government have threatened to cut the overseas aid budget for countries which persecute homosexuals," she said.

“Fair enough. But what about Christians? When do we qualify for such protection or don’t we?”

African nations have reacted with anger to the Government's position.

Ghana’s Trade and Industry Minister, Hannah Tetteh, said that individual nations should be allowed to manage their own affairs.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for them to tell us how we should deal with these issues that are a matter of our own perception of what is morally right or wrong,” she said.

Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda, meanwhile, accused David Cameron of demonstrating an “ex-colonial mentality”.

“Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state and we are tired of being given these lectures by people,” said Mr Nagenda.

“If they must take their money, so be it.”

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