On 4th April 2019 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled on religious freedom in China. The exchanges, and the follow-up questions from other Members, are below:
China: Religious Freedom
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of freedom of religion in China.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, there are several recognised religions in China, with tens of millions of practising Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, among others. However, we are deeply concerned about developing restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in China, including reports that authorities are tightening control over how certain religions are practised. At the United Nations Human Rights Council last month, I raised directly our concerns about restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in China, including on Muslims and Christians in Xinjiang.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply. There are deeply worrying reports coming out of China, not least about persecuting the Christian churches there—an ancient Christian church there was founded in the 7th century. Will he comment particularly on the developing situation concerning Uighur Muslims and the development of the network of re-education camps in Xinjiang province? What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made and what are they planning to do?
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The Lord Bishop of Wakefield asked Her Majesty’s Government: what representations they are making to the Government of Georgia regarding Islamophobia in that country; and what steps they are taking to ensure freedom of religion and the rights of minority groups there.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the UK raises human rights issues on a regular basis with the Georgian Government, both bilaterally and through multilateral institutions such as the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We have not made any recent representations regarding Islamophobia, but we continue to follow minority rights closely, including through our embassy’s work in Tbilisi and its regional travel. We fund a local NGO to maintain an inter-religion working group, which involves a variety of faith groups, including Muslims.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, last year, I was fortunate to spend a couple of nights with a Muslim family in Batumi, and the next morning I met the president of the semi-autonomous region there, Mr Archil Khabadze. I pressed the question to him of why there was only one mosque for something like 110,000 out of the 150,000 people, that being the number of Muslims in the city. He said that at that time they would take immediate steps to find more land made available for Muslims in that city. I said that I would be coming back in the next three months to open the mosque with other religious groups. Would Her Majesty’s Government please press the authorities to make sure that the local administration there is asked to fulfil the promise that they made; otherwise, these very open Muslims will soon become radicalised.
Baroness Warsi: The right reverend Prelate raises a really important issue. His Question prompted me to go away and do some research, and I was quite intrigued to find out that just over 10% of Georgia’s population are indeed Muslim—a much larger percentage than in our own communities. The right reverend Prelate will be aware that one of the challenges in Georgia is that the Muslim community is not particularly well engaged politically and therefore does not really put its head above the parapet. I have become aware of low-level discrimination and tensions towards the Muslim community there, but as Georgia moves towards closer EU integration part of its requirement is to fulfil its obligation to bring in anti-discrimination laws.