On 13th May 2014, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, received an answer to a written question on Iran.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the question of human rights and freedom of religion and belief was amongst the range of international issues discussed by the Foreign Office’s Political Director, Sir Simon Gass, when he met senior Iranian officials whilst visiting Iran in April.
Baroness Warsi: Human rights were not amongst the issues discussed by Sir Simon Gass on his visit to Iran in April: his interlocutors did not have responsibilities in this area. However, the UK’s non-resident Chargé d’Affaires discussed human rights with a range of Iranian government officials during his visit to Iran on 12 March 2014. He raised the use of the death penalty, freedom of religion and the workings of the criminal justice system. Prior to that, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), raised Iran’s human rights records with Iranian foreign minister Zarif at the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2013.
“The ability to pray and worship as one wishes is a fundamental human right, and one that we, as elected democrats, should always seek to defend.” – Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, 1/5/14
On 1st May 2014 a debate was held in the House of Commons on ‘Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion’. The debate was led by the Alliance MP for Belfast East, Naomi Long. Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, who is the Second Church Estates Commissioner, took part in the debate and his speech is below. The full debate can be read on the UK Hansard website here. Continue reading “MPs debate freedom of thought, conscience and religion”
Written Question, answered on 25th March, 2014:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of freedom of religion and belief in Somalia.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The vast majority of people in Somalia are Muslim (around 99.8%) and Islam is recognised as the official state religion in Somalia’s provisional constitution. The majority of reports of restriction of religious freedom relate to human rights abuses by Al Shabaab.
Written Question, answered on 20th March, 2014:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Iran regarding that country’s human rights record.[HL6021]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): The UK’s non-resident Chargé d’Affaires discussed human rights with a range of Iranian government officials during his most recent visit to Iran on 12 March 2014. He raised the use of the death penalty, freedom of religion and the workings of the criminal justice system. Prior to that, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), raised Iran’s human rights records with Iranian foreign minister Zarif at the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2013.
On March 19th 2014 the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, received answers to two written questions about Egypt: on political and religious freedom in the country.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current state of political freedom in Egypt and of the prospects for free and fair Presidential elections later this year.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The January 2014 constitutional referendum was an important moment for millions of Egyptians who expressed their opinion through the ballot box. We welcome the fact that the new constitution includes better provisions for the protection of the rights of minorities, including Christians, and women. However, we are concerned by restrictions on freedom of expression for opposition groups and the press, both in the run-up to the referendum and since. We encourage Egypt’s interim authorities to ensure that Egypt’s democratic transition leads to free and fair presidential elections in a genuinely inclusive process. We are pleased to hear that the EU European External Action Service is discussing with Egyptian authorities its intention to send an Electoral Observation Mission to Egypt for the presidential elections.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the state of freedom of religion and belief in Egypt following the removal of President Morsi from office in July 2013.
Baroness Warsi: Sectarian violence increased under President Morsi and has continued since. Amnesty report that 200 Christian-owned properties have been attacked and 43 churches burned down or damaged since July 2013. In September, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), made a statement in Parliament condemning the violence against Christian churches. Article 64 of the 2014 constitution states that freedom of belief is absolute. The key test will be how the constitution is implemented, as many articles require additional legislation. We have continued to raise the importance of respect for different religions and beliefs and the protection of religious minorities with the Egyptian authorities. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Mr Robertson), discussed the situation faced by Coptic Christians and implications of the new constitution in a meeting with Bishop Yulios during his visit to Cairo in December 2013. The Bishop was optimistic about the new Constitution provisions for religious minorities.
On 18th March 2014 Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the findings of the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights in North Korea.”
The Bishop of Peterborough, Rt Rev Donald Allister, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, can the Minister confirm recent reports of the possible execution of 33 people for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime by their association with the South Korean missionary, Kim Jung-wook? What efforts are being made to urge the North Korean authorities not to proceed with such executions and to respect freedom of religion?
Baroness Warsi: We are aware of these terrible reports. Of course, this relates to the suspicion that these individuals were involved with the creation of an underground church under the support of Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean who was arrested by the DPRK last year. As noble Lords are aware, freedom of religion and belief is a key priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and we make those views clear to the North Koreans. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will accept that we have only so many mechanisms with which to make our opinions known on this matter.
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.