Open Doors UK calls on Boris Johnson to keep his promises on religious freedom

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Persecution watchdog Open Doors UK has called on new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to keep his promise to "always prioritise protecting religious freedoms". 

Johnson made the pledge of support in a tweet responding to the Bishop of Truro's report into Christian persecution commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

The report recommends that the UK Government impose sanctions on the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses against religious minorities, and that it seek a new United Nations Security Council resolution calling on governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect religious freedoms. 

In his tweet, Johnson also promised that as Prime Minister he would "stand up for those facing persecution". 

Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, was one of several politicians to say last year that the UK Government should offer asylum to Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi. 

In a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid last November, after Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy and freed from death row, Johnson said she had suffered "appalling treatment" for her faith and had an "overwhelming claim for compassion from the British government". 

"I am well aware, as a former Foreign Secretary, of the constant threat to our overseas missions, but we cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing," he said at the time. 

In the end, it was Canada that stepped forward to offer Bibi and her family asylum. 

Responding to his tweets earlier this month on religious freedom, Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said she was "delighted" by Johnson's pledge and wanted to see him take "quick action to deliver greater protection for religious minorities".

"Open Doors is committed to working with all politicians to ensure that real and meaningful change is delivered to persecuted Christians through the implementation of the recommendations of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's review into the persecution of Christians abroad," she said. 

In its own response to the persecution review, Open Doors urged the UK Government to make the Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief - a role created by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May - a permanent position and focus on priority countries like Nigeria. 

The call echoes that of shadow Foreign Office minister Liz McInnes, who said in the Commons last week that action to address persecution was "long overdue". 

She spoke of her support for making the role of special envoy permanent and giving special priority to certain countries. 

"Many people have been trying to draw the world's attention to the deeply worrying scale of Christian persecution for many, many years," she said.

"Like other Members, I was shocked to hear that 80% of religious persecution globally is against Christians. Clearly, there is a serious problem here that needs urgent action from all Governments."

Blyth said that the comments from Johnson and McInnes were a sign that a "political consensus is already emerging" on the issue of Christian persecution.