Freedom of faith around the world

Sometimes it is easy to take freedoms we know in our lives for granted. One of the most important is freedom of faith, which allows us to worship at liberty and hold our own beliefs. Such rights, however, are not held by everyone around the world.

A moving event in the parliamentary calendar each year is the launch of Open Doors’ World Watch List. This is an annual ranking of 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

North Korea remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Believers are forced to worship in secret, and if they are discovered they are taken to labour camps. An estimated 70,000 Christians are believed to be in these camps.

This year, speakers included Michael, a Christian businessman from Egypt, and Hannah who came from Pakistan. While their names have been changed to protect their identities, their stories shine a light on religious persecution which we must continue to work to prevent.

Violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists is raising levels of fear and intimidation. Open Doors found that Islamic terrorists being driven out of Iraq and Syria led to an increase in the level of threat in Egypt and Turkey.

A few years ago I visited Iraqi refugees; to sit down in people’s tents and listen to individuals affected as a result of the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars was cause for reflection.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s four main human rights priorities are; tackling modern slavery, defending freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, ending inequality and discrimination, and promoting democracy.

In the House of Commons ahead of the launch of this year’s World Watch List, I not only stated the importance of these human rights priorities, but reiterated my own support for Open Doors and the work undertaken to protect the freedom of religion around the world.

Henry Smith MP