Bishop of Coventry asks Government about freedom of religion and belief and use of the death penalty across the Commonwealth

On Wednesday 15th November 2017 the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, received written answers to five questions about freedom of religion and belief and use of the death penalty across the Commonwealth: 

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

(i) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of Commonwealth countries that retain apostasy laws.

(ii) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of Commonwealth countries that retain some form of blasphemy law.

(iii) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of Commonwealth countries that retain the death penalty.

(iv) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their strategy for protecting freedom of religion or belief across the Commonwealth.

(v) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what percentage of funds currently allocated under the Magna Carta Fund aim to protect or strengthen freedom of religion or belief across the Commonwealth.


Answers: 

(i) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Her Majesty’s Government remains firmly committed to the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief around the world. Criminalising apostasy runs contrary to this human right and we oppose it for that reason. We do not currently hold information on the number of Commonwealth countries that criminalise apostasy, but data collected by Pew Research Centre in 2014 found that 25 countries worldwide had some form of apostasy law or policy.

We do not hold these details and it is difficult to obtain accurate data. We will speak with our non-governmental organisations to see if they hold information

(via Parliament.uk)

(ii) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Her Majesty’s Government remains firmly committed to the protection and promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief around the world. Criminalising blasphemy runs contrary to that human right and we oppose it for that reason. We do not currently hold information on the number of Commonwealth countries that criminalise blasphemy, but a report published by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in July 2017 found that blasphemy laws were retained in 71 countries worldwide.

We do not hold this information and accurate data is difficult to obtain. We will speak with our non-governmental organisations to see if they hold this information.

(via Parliament.uk)

(iii) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) works closely with leading human rights organisations to promote abolition of the death penalty globally. 33 Commonwealth countries retain the death penalty. The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and we make our opposition known at the highest levels in countries where it continues to be applied. On World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10 October, I issued a statement setting out the UK Government’s position that the use of the death penalty undermines human dignity, that there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value, and that any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreparable.

(via Parliament.uk)

(iv) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Protecting Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) remains a high priority for Her Majesty’s Government. We work on this issue around the world, including in countries that are members of the Commonwealth.

On International Religious Freedom Day (27 October), I wrote to all UK Ambassadors and High Commissioners encouraging them to make FoRB a priority in their human rights engagements and work in country. I also re-issued our revised “toolkit” which supports our diplomats working to protect and promote FoRB in locally appropriate ways. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also continues to provide training and seminars to increase religious literacy amongst staff.

Ministers and officials also speak out publicly in support of Freedom of Religion or Belief. For example, during my visit to Bangladesh in August 2017, I visited the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Dhaka and made a public call for religious tolerance.

The UK Government also continues to support a number of projects which promote Freedom of Religion or Belief through the FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy. Examples include a project to support a network of human rights defenders in South Asia.

In multilateral fora, the Government continues to work to sustain consensus on the adoption and implementation of two important resolutions: the European Union’s Freedom of Religion or Belief resolution and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)’s resolution on Combating Religious Intolerance.

In October 2017, I convened the first in a series of roundtable meetings on FoRB. These meetings will bring together faith leaders and civil society to discuss current challenges to FoRB internationally, and how we can collaborate to strengthen our response to these.

(via Parliament.uk)

(v) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: This financial year 2% (£207,946) of the overall Magna Carta Fund has been allocated to protecting or strengthening freedom of religion or belief across the Commonwealth. All of these projects are regional and therefore include Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries.

(via Parliament.uk)

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