After refusing to offer asylum to Catholic woman Asia Bibi, who was recently acquitted of blasphemy charges in Pakistan, the British government has announced it will undertake a review into the persecution of Christians around the world.
British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, ordered the independent global review as the government continues to receive criticism for not offering to take Bibi.
“Britain has long championed international religious freedom,” Mr Hunt said.
“So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority.”
The review will be led by Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, and will make recommendations to the government for taking practical measures to support those under threat of persecution.
International organisation, Open Doors, estimates that 215 million Christians—one in twelve worldwide—suffer persecution. The worst five countries in the world for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors, are North Korea, Afganistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan.
National Director of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need Australia, Bernard Toutounji, welcomed news of the unprecedented British review of the current situation around the world.
“The decision by the British government is a hopeful sign that perhaps the Western world is waking up the fact that the persecution of Christians is not something that ended with the Colosseum in Rome,” Mr Toutounji told The Catholic Weekly.
“Hundreds of millions of Christians today are suffering violence and oppression and being killed for faith in Jesus. Every month hundreds of churches and church buildings are damaged and destroyed by aggressors in nations around the world.
“Australia has a Racial Discrimination Act, a Sex Discrimination Act, an Age discrimination Act and a Disability Discrimination Act but nothing that acknowledges the deep and abiding importance of faith in the lives of so many in our population. May this move in the UK continue to fan the flames of conversation and action around the suffering of our brothers and sisters in need.”
The British Pakistani Christian Association also welcomed the British review stating that they, along with many other NGOs, have long been petitioning for such a report.
The BPCA advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians in Pakistan and recently held a protest in Sydney calling on Western nations including Australia to offer Asia Bibi and her family asylum.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has denied that Bibi had been refused asylum in the UK due to fears of offending British Muslims. She also said it would not be prudent to divulge Britain’s discussions with Pakistan over the Bibi case.
“We could go out there and say something, just to show that the UK is doing that, or we could ask what is right for Asia Bibi,” Ms May said. “We are working with others in the international community and with the Pakistani government to ensure that our prime aim—the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family—is provided for.”
The Australian government has indicated that it will offer Bibi and her family asylum should Canada fail to do so.