Bishop of Coventry asks Government about Asia Bibi, religious freedom in Pakistan, and asylum on religious persecution grounds

On 3rd December 2018 the Bishop of Coventry received written answers to five questions he had tabled to Government on Asia Bibi, religious freedom in Pakistan and applications for asylum from Pakistan on grounds of religious persecution:

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the state of freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan.

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to (1) support religious pluralism, and (2) promote freedom of religion or belief, in Pakistan.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: We remain deeply concerned about restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan. The British Government strongly condemns the persecution of all minorities, including the targeting of innocent people based on their beliefs. Pakistan is one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) human rights priority countries, as set out in the FCO’s 2017 Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report available at the gov.uk website.

We regularly raise the issues of freedom of religion and belief and the protection of minority religious communities, with the Pakistan government at a senior level. When the Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Imran Khan in August, she highlighted the importance of Pakistan delivering on its commitments to strengthen institutions responsible for upholding the rule of law, and to advance the rights of minorities. I raised our concerns about Freedom of Religion or Belief and the protection of minority religious communities with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, Dr Shireen Mazari, in September 2018.

Under the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, the British Government has supported projects in Pakistan to promote greater tolerance and religious freedom.

The UK raised concerns about Freedom of Religion or Belief at Pakistan’s UN Universal Periodic Review of human rights in November 2017. We pressed Pakistan to strengthen the protection of minorities, including by establishing an independent National Commission for Minorities from all faith communities.

We continue to urge Pakistan to take the steps necessary to comply in full with its human rights obligations, including engaging with the UN and other international bodies, and to ensure that the rights of minorities are respected.

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The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the family of Asia Bibi that they be granted asylum in the UK.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: As the Prime Minister set out on 14 November, the release of Asia Bibi will be very welcome news to her family and to all those who have campaigned in Pakistan and around the world for her release. We welcome the assurances the Government of Pakistan has given on keeping her and her family safe and it is important that all countries seek to uphold the rule of law and afford security and protection for the rights of all citizens irrespective of faith or belief.

It is a longstanding Government policy not to comment on individual cases. In accordance with our duty of confidentiality, we cannot confirm whether an asylum claim has been received or the outcome of such a request.
Departing from this policy may put individuals and their family members in danger.

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The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Pakistan (1) to uphold the decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to acquit Asia Bibi, and (2) that she be removed from any Exit Control List.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: ​As the Prime Minister stated in Parliament on 14 November, the British Government’s primary concern is for the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family. We want to see a swift resolution of the situation. Prime Minister Imran Khan has made clear publicly his support for the Supreme Court of Pakistan and promised to uphold the rule of law, while providing continued protection for Asia Bibi. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has publicly confirmed that Asia Bibi will remain under the protection of the Pakistan government until the legal review process has concluded.

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The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many applications for asylum from Pakistan on grounds of religious persecution they received in the years ending (1) June 2015, (2) June 2016, (3) June 2017, and (4) June 2018; and of those, how many applications were granted in each year.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: All asylum claims lodged in the UK are carefully considered on their individual merits against a background of relevant case law and up to date country information. We ensure that claimants are given every opportunity to disclose information relevant to their claim under a Convention reason as set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The data required to answer the question is not recorded in a way that can be reported on accurately. The Home Office does not electronically record the Convention reason on which an individual claims asylum and so we cannot identify how many asylum claimants, from a specific country, have been granted asylum due to a claim made on the grounds of religious persecution.

However, the Home Office publishes figures on the outcome of all asylum claims, which can be broken down by nationality, in the Immigration Statistics release. The breakdown is as follows:

Year ending Jun-15 Jun-16 Jun-17 Jun-18
Applications from Pakistani nationals 2313 3000 2598 2313
Grants of Pakistani nationals; Including Humanitarian Protection, Discretionary leave, Exceptional Leave and other grants of Leave outside the Rules. 610 300 295 294
Grants of Asylum of Pakistani nationals 568 288 277 269

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