Let the Sudan be the start of action to protect persecuted Christians

It’s time we sent a message that to deny Christians the right to peacefully follow their faith will not be tolerated.

It’s time we sent a message that to deny Christians the right to peacefully follow their faith will not be tolerated

On Saturday we woke to the news that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were all rightly condemning the news that Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian in the Sudan, had been sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.

Whilst speculation that Ms Ibrahim, who gave birth in her prison cell on Wednesday, has suggested she may be freed soon, such seemingly positive news has since been damned by the country’s Foreign Ministry.

Welcome though the intervention of the leaders of our main political parties is, however, it still begs the question as to why it is that they have seemingly only just publicly recognised the persecution faced by Christians worldwide.

As I have previously noted, research by the Pew Centre in the United States clearly points to Christians being the most persecuted faith of any other around the world, with cases of Christians being killed for their faith having doubled worldwide.

With that in mind, where were our political leaders when Fatima, a girl in Saudi Arabia, had told her family that she had converted from Islam to Christianity only to see her  family cut her tongue out and burn her to death? How can we even contemplate having exported £112 million worth of arms exports to the Saudi government when it is doing so little to tackle the problem? As Open Doors has noted of the country:

“There is no provision for religious freedom in the constitution of this Islamic kingdom. All citizens must adhere to Islam and conversion to another religion is punishable by death. Public Christian worship is forbidden; worshippers risk imprisonment, lashing, deportation and torture.”

No churches exist and expatriates along with both local and foreign Christians “are subject to kidnapping, abduction, killing” and sometimes have to flee the country.

And why did it take the abduction of nearly 200 school girls before the West woke up to the horrors that are facing the people of Nigeria, when reports suggest that since 2009 up to a quarter of the estimated 4,000 people killed by Boko Haram have been Christians?

Last month, 15-year-old Deborah Peters, a christian from Nigeria, delivered some remarks to the Hudson Institute in the United States on her own harrowing story of persecution. She recalled when her father and brother were killed by Boko Haram in 2011. Her father, a Christian Pastor, was in the shower when members of terrorist group stormed their house. She explained:

“It was 7:30 and three men knocked on the door and asked where my dad is. They drug him from the bathroom and shouted for him to deny his faith. He said he wouldn’t … and they shot him three times in the chest.”

They then debated whether to kill her brother but decided that they should, just in case he too grew up to become a Christian pastor which they found a threat.

The stories could go on and on, but the point is that Christians worldwide face real persecution on a scale that is unequalled.

Faced with such horror, we in the West and the UK especially have an obligation to do all we can to shout loudly to those regimes failing to enable Christians, and others, to practice their faith without fear of intimidation or death.

And it goes so much further than just a legal duty under various human rights declarations. In a world where death, destruction, famine and war seem to dominate our news headlines, the Christian faith provides many with a hope, a sense of light in a dark world. Whether one is a believer or not, to deny people a hope that the world cannot provide is simply cruel.

Building on their comments over the weekend in response to plight of Meriam Ibrahim, it’s time for all parties to seriously consider how we can once again claim the mantra of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ – as called for by the late foreign secretary Robin Cook.

Whether it is through aid, trade or diplomatic muscle, we have the tools to make a difference. It’s time we used them to send a message that to deny Christians the right to peacefully follow their faith is not just cruel but will not be tolerated.

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