Persecution review must go beyond addressing Foreign Office 'blind spot' on Christian persecution


A review into the Foreign Office's support for persecuted Christians must lead to concrete help for those who are suffering for their faith, a human rights campaigner has said.

The review was launched by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January and the findings are due out in the summer.  An interim report released earlier this month found that levels of persecution against Christians is coming "close to meeting the international definition of genocide". 

Christian human rights campaigner Luke de Pulford told Christian Today it was important that the review do more than address the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "blind spot" for the persecution of Christians. 

"Officials within our Foreign Office have a long track record of downgrading Christian suffering, giving it less priority than other persecuted groups," said Mr de Pulford, director of the Arise Foundation which supports trafficking victims.

"The Foreign Secretary's review, while a positive step, must go beyond addressing the Foreign Office's blind spot to the suffering of Christians.

"The Home Office and Department for International Development have the same blind spot, and it is they, arguably more than the FCO, who can actually offer concrete help." 

He said this "blind spot" could be seen in the Government's treatment of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian whose death sentence blasphemy was overturned last October. 

Despite protests from MPs, including Boris Johnson and Rehman Chishti, the UK Government refused to offer her asylum. 

Prime Minister Theresa May defended the Government's position in the House of Commons last week, telling MPs that it was "right and appropriate" to support Canada's offer of asylum. 

Asia BibiCall For Mercy

Mrs Bibi arrived in Canada last week where she was reunited with her daughters who had gone there out of fears for their safety following her acquittal by the Pakistani Supreme Court. 

Mr de Pulford accused the UK Government of being too afraid to offer her asylum. 

"Canada, which did so much for Asia Bibi, has held a dignified silence. Yet the countries which did so little for her, including the UK, are falling over one another to claim credit," he said.

"Pretty remarkable given that so many were too fearful of reprisal attacks to offer her asylum and Britain actually refused it." 

A freedom of information request by Mr de Pulford revealed that Asia Bibi was not mentioned in diplomatic telegrams between Whitehall and the High Commission in Pakistan until after her acquittal - eight years after she was sentenced to death. 

Responding to the telegrams in The Sunday Times, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "We have raised the Asia Bibi case with the Pakistan government for a number of years."

It added: "All those who have campaigned on Asia Bibi's behalf, including in the UK, will be delighted at the news she has travelled freely and has been reunited with her family. The UK strongly supports global respect for freedom of religious belief."