Level of Christian persecution in the world is 'extraordinary', says Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt promised that the persecution of Christians would be high on the agenda in Britain's dealings with countries where it is an issue(Photo: Foreign & Commonwealth Office)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised to use the Commonwealth and Britain's ties with Europe and the US to tackle the persecution of Christians around the world.

Mr Hunt, who recently ordered a review into global Christian persecution, made the pledge while addressing the launch of the Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians suffer the most for their faith. 

He expressed concern at the decline of religious freedom around the world as he said it was 'extraordinary that nearly a quarter of a billion people are suffering persecution today because of their Christian faith'.

'It's also extraordinary to think that 80 per cent of people who are suffering persecution because of their faith are Christian,' he said.

Mr Hunt said that life was 'very, very tough' for the Christians living in countries on the World Watch List, which was topped by North Korea for the 18th year in a row.  It was followed in the top 10 by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, and India.  

Reflecting on Britain's role in improving religious freedoms for persecuted Christians, Mr Hunt said he wanted to tap into Britain's global links.  

'I want to think about what Britain's role could be. We are not a superpower but we are a global power and just as we shouldn't overestimate our strength we shouldn't underestimate it either and one thing we have despite all the travails of Brexit that we brilliantly timed this event to coincide with is we do have the most fantastic links around the world through our links with the Commonwealth our alliance with the United States, our links with our European friends and neighbours,' he said.

'And I want us to use those links to be an invisible chain that binds together countries that share our values.' 

Mr Hunt said that, as a Christian country, Britain must not be shy about speaking up for Christians around the world. 

'And what I want to do is to remove any nervousness or sense of political correctness that might have said that Britain shouldn't be championing the rights of Christians around the world for whatever reasons, reasons of history and empire and all that sort of thing which may have been an issue that we have been a bit shy about in the past and we mustn't be,' he said.

'And I think it's also very important to remember that although we are a western country and a very wealthy country and a Christian country, the vast majority of people we're talking about are Christians in much much poorer countries and they are entitled to our thoughts and prayers and action just as any persecuted minority are anywhere in the world and I think that must be part of our mission.' 

Mr Hunt concluded by asking Christians to pray for those in places where being a believer is 'an act of great courage', before adding that he wanted the suffering church to know that 'there are people who understand what they're going through and are sincerely trying to do everything they can about it'. 

As part of this commitment, he said the Foreign Office would be keeping the issue of Christian persecution high on the agenda in private and public meetings with countries where it is occurring. 

'For me when I go to church the biggest stress is trying to get my kids to come along with me,' he said.

'But for other people who have much much more serious issues and we must remember that indeed Christianity has its heart in the story of persecution and so we should always be alive to those people suffering it today and secondly, please don't just hold it in your prayers but also remember there are things that we can do about this and this is not something that is just about making speeches.'