"Christian men and women in Iran are treated as foreigners in their own land, particularly converts from Islam, who are considered more than simply foreigners or second-class citizens; they are considered traitors and are routinely sentenced to death or face trumped-up charges for converting. It is no small wonder that so many have been forced to flee Iran. One of the greatest exoduses of people across the modern world has been people fleeing Iran.
The Iranian regime has long sought viciously to repress anyone who espouses views different from its own, whether those views come from political opponents or the Baha’i community, which has been ferociously persecuted. Mr Ataollah Rezvani was shot in the back of the head, and his body was abandoned by a railway near Bandar Abbas, in August simply for being a member of the Baha’i community. Such persecution has led our Government to condemn Iran’s human rights reputation as “appalling” and to note that Iran’s treatment of religious minorities is “shocking.” We have heard that 80 per cent of acts of religious discrimination across the world are directed at Christians.Mr Williams was speaking in the House of Commons debate on "Persecution of Christians (Middle East)" held last Tuesday (5 November).
Introducing the debate, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce quoted Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief; and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
"Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. When citizens are prevented from enjoying that right, the social, political and cultural implications can be serious, as the debate will show. The loss of other human rights can swiftly follow. The debate is therefore important not only for Christians, but for all religious groups and minorities, and indeed for everyone seeking to live out the dictates of their conscience in worship, teaching, practice and observance, respectful of others’ right to do likewise, and under the protection of a state striving to achieve that positive vision under the rule of law. That is a far cry from the reality for many Christians in the Middle East....
Christianity is the most persecuted faith worldwide, so the problem exists not only in the Middle east, but globally.
The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, in his outgoing interview with The Daily Telegraph, discussed the persecution of Christians in the middle east with the deepest concern of any current issue, saying that
“this is a human tragedy that is going almost unremarked… it is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. We are seeing Christians in Syria in great danger; we are seeing the burning of Coptic churches in Egypt. There is a large Coptic population in Egypt, and for some years now it has been living in fear. Two years ago the last church in Afghanistan was destroyed, certainly closed. There are no churches left in Afghanistan. Between 500,000 and 1 million Christians have left Iraq. At the beginning of the 19th century, Christians represented 20% of the population of the Arab world, today 2%. This is a story that is crying out for a public voice”.
Let us be that voice today.
.... We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the terrible atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht and on other occasions in Germany during the Second World War ....
I am very concerned about that and the problem has global implications. I hope that, as a result, we will have many more debates in the House on the persecution of Christians in other regions of the world.
The ACN report discusses how, in virtually every country in and around the Middle East region, Christians report suffering either high, high to extreme or extreme persecution. That includes Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. In virtually every one, the situation has worsened since ACN’s last report in 2011, except in Iraq, but only because the attacks in 2009-10 were so large in scale."Observed fellow-Conservative Mark Field
"In this context, it is important to recognise that there is one state in the Middle East with a proud record of allowing a large degree of religious freedom, irrespective of other elements of the problems that it faces within its borders: Israel. I hope that my hon. Friend will say a few words about how religious freedom, at least, is protected in Israel, not just for the 20 per cent of its population who are Christian, but for the 16 per cent who are Muslim." [Emphasis added here and below]
My hon. Friend is quite right, which is why I did not include Israel in the list that I read out. The report does not include it among the areas of extreme persecution. I respect what is being done in Israel, although I must say that concerns are now being expressed in Palestine about increasing persecution there.
The report says:
“Christianity may yet remain the largest world religion, but its claims to universality—a truly global presence on all five continents—may soon be lost as it becomes the prime victim in the emergence of theocratic states where minority faith groups—most especially Christians—have no place, except perhaps as third-class citizens.”)David Burrowes,another Conservative, reminded the House that
"eleven Christians are killed around the world every hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith. And increasing numbers of Christians are being killed in the Middle East, which is why it is right to focus on the region."Having spoken heart wrenchingly and authoritatively about the persecution of Iran (that's the same Iran which runs Press TV, upon which Western Israel-baiters including Christian minister the Reverend Stephen Sizer do not flinch to appear) he subsequently remarked:
"Today, we can complain on their behalf. In fact, we can properly take the words of the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, and I will finish by quoting him.
We have already heard that Israel is very much set apart from concerns about freedom of religion, by contrast to the countries that neighbour it. In 2011, Fouad Twal said:
“Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere, comes to our aid?”
.... We must ensure that we use all the channels that we can to stand up for persecuted Christians in Iran."Welsh Conservative Guto Bebb referred to the situation in Syria before telling the House:
The key point is that the Christian population in Israel has increased a thousandfold since the country was established. Christians serve in the Supreme Court, the Knesset and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and they are contributing to a stronger country. The situation of Christians in Israel can be contrasted with that of Christians in the west bank, where the Christian population has fallen quite dramatically. In 1948, about 15 per cent of Palestinians identified themselves as Christian; today, that figure has fallen to about 2 per cent. In many ways, the strongest, most economically prosperous country in the Middle East is also the most welcoming of religious minorities. When we discuss this issue, it is important to place on record the fact that there is, in the Middle East, a country that shows us how things can be done differently, and that is leading to a more prosperous situation for all the citizens of that country, regardless of their religion."Labour MP Ian Lucas pointed out in his speech:
"The hon. Member for Aberconwy [Guto Bebb] mentioned Israel, and it is no coincidence that that country, with its tolerance for religious minorities, is a democracy. For that reason, we need to commit to supporting the progress of democracy in the region, even though, as recent events in Egypt, for example, have shown, that is a difficult course, which often leads us to take one step forward and two steps back, making the political situation difficult to manage."(Conservative Hugo Swire, Minister of State for the Foreign Office acted somewhat as a damp squib:".... Some interesting points were made about the Middle East as the birthplace of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which makes the religious persecution there all the more poignant. My hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) mentioned Israel and Palestine. It is true that less than 2 per cent of the population of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is Christian today, compared with 22 per cent at the end of the British mandate in 1948. I heard what my hon. Friends said, but we continue to be concerned about access to holy sites for all, including Christians and Muslims....")
Read the entire debate here