We stand for Christians everywhere, says Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to defend the religious freedom of ChristiansReuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has used his Christmas message to speak up for persecuted Christians.

He said that Christmas Day was "first and foremost, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ".

"It is a day of inestimable importance to billions of Christians the world over," he said. 

But he also recognised that while in the UK, people will be sharing gifts and "tucking into some delicious food", for many Christians around the world, they will be celebrating "in secret, perhaps even in a prison cell".

He went on to promise that the government would work towards promoting religious freedom and ending Christian persecution. 

"Today of all days, I want us to remember those Christians around the world who are facing persecution," he said.

"For them, Christmas Day will be marked in private, in secret, perhaps even in a prison cell.

"As Prime Minister, that's something I want to change. We stand with Christians everywhere, in solidarity, and will defend your right to practice your faith." 

Christian human rights groups have been anxious to see the new government implement the recommendations of a persecution review commissioned a year ago by the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and published over the summer.

The review, led by the Bishop of Truro, warned that the persecution of Christians was reaching genocidal levels and called on the government to impose sanctions on the worst offenders. 

It also urged the government to initiate a UN Security Council resolution promoting freedom of religion or belief around the world. 

Speaking to Christian Today, Open Doors CEO Henrietta Blythe gave the Prime Minister's comments a cautious welcome.

"It's really positive that he is saying something on this publicly," she said, although she added that the "proof of the pudding is always in the eating".

"One of the challenges is Brexit and how trade agreements will be negotiated with countries where Christians are having a difficult time," she said.

"We would like to see the government raise religious freedom in its discussions around trade agreements."