Persecuted Christians belong on Rishi's radar in 2023

Fr Sam Ebute buried 21 of his parishioners after bandits attacked Kukum Daji village. He is pictured here standing in front of the victims' shoes.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

Transport strikes, cabinet appointments, economic woes and tax affairs. All these have been on Mr Sunak's radar. But there is one pressing concern that cannot go unmentioned in 2023. Given its relative absence from the mainstream media narrative, it is a crisis so easily and often overlooked.

It takes place each day in a lot of places: from the prisons of Communist China to brutal attacks in Burma; and from the mob justice of some Middle Eastern nations to the killing fields of the Sahel. It is none other than the increasing persecution of Christians.

Almost 8,000 Nigerian Christians have lost their lives within 18 months alone due to Islamist violence. Christians are persecuted in more countries than any other faith, according to Pew Research Center figures.

Aid to the Church in Need's latest paper Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2020-22, launched in Parliament, found that the oppression or persecution of Christians increased in 75 per cent of countries surveyed. The number of countries where Christians face high to extreme levels of persecution has nearly doubled in 30 years, from 40 to 76 nations according to Open Doors' World Watch List 2023.

"Christians are killed all across Africa, their churches attacked and villages razed to the ground. In Pakistan, they are unjustly detained on spurious charges of blasphemy. Underage Christian girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to convert and marry middle-aged men in countries such as Egypt, Mozambique and Pakistan. In China and North Korea, totalitarian governments crush the faithful underfoot, monitoring their every move," wrote one priest, whose church was attacked by terrorists last year. The massacre left over 40 Christians dead and dozens seriously wounded.

The persecution of Christians is escalating, and there are few governments better placed than Mr Sunak's to help alleviate it. He has a Cabinet with more than enough brainpower to address the crisis head-on, a supportive electorate when it comes to defending the vulnerable, and a Tory party behind him that at grassroots level sympathizes with and cares about the plight of Christians at home and abroad.

Time might not be on the Prime Minister's side in the fight to uphold the rights and freedoms of Christians abroad. Each day sees pastors, priests and parishioners arrested or killed for sharing their faith publicly, from North Korea to northern Nigeria. Time is not an asset the Tories have, and endless deliberations on the details of the crisis or on solutions often result in nothing being done. But money is an asset Mr Sunak is comfortable with, and the fact is that not much is needed to stop the worst persecution that Christians face. Financial excuses are the root of all delays, and where there's a will, there's usually a chequebook somewhere lying around.

It is my conviction that the Tory administration led by Mr Sunak will not ignore their plight, nor underestimate the seriousness of Britain's moral commitment to help end the persecution of Christians worldwide, as outlined in the Government's positive response to the Bishop of Truro's 2019 report recommendations.

Should Mr Sunak pick up the pieces from previous administrations and implement the Truro report's suggestions in full, he would earn the respect of a large number of Christians and non-Christians alike who care deeply about alleviating the suffering of the persecuted. To embrace the report's 22 recommendations, which include being prepared to impose sanctions on those persecuting religious minorities, is not only feasible but highly practical, useful and – with the clock ticking four years on – right and honourable. A recent assessment of the Government's progress found that not one of the targets has been delivered, with far less than half being in the 'advanced stage of delivery'.

Other practical targets the Government can achieve include giving more airtime to the Christian persecution crisis on national media and at party conferences. Politicos and the public alike need to know about it, if we truly believe in justice. Pushing for international alliances with foreign governments to set and meet realistic goals for alleviating the persecution of Christians abroad is desirable, where strategies can be adopted to deal not only with foreign state actors but non-state groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram. Pressure should be put on the UN to recognise the genocide of Nigeria's Christians, and to ramp up its pursuit of an end to their tribulation. For persecuted Christians around the world, as Sir Edward Leigh MP recently explained, our excuses are abuses and our silence is violence.

Historically, the more that Government departments have filibustered on the crisis, the more the situation on the ground worsens. The Prime Minister is well-positioned to change that, having the material resources and the political backing of his party to do so. What we need is the willpower to do it and not just to say it.

If we cannot stand up for persecuted Christians, then even our grandest achievements will be in vain.

Alexander Stafford is Member of Parliament for Rother Valley, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Policy and former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.