The Government will use its aid budget to make sure countries make “progress on religious freedom” said Jeremy Hunt as a new report highlights the persecution of Christians around the world.
The Foreign Secretary said he has asked the Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen to conduct a review into the issue after an inquiry by the Open Doors mission says there is expected to be a 14 % increase in persecution globally this year.
He was speaking in the Commons during Foreign Office Questions, revealing that 80% of people suffering for their religious beliefs are Christians.
Mr Hunt said the vast majority are in the world’s poorest countries, and the UK will use “all diplomatic leverage” to highlight those issues.
He added: “Some of the worst offenders are in the Middle East, notably Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, where the population of Christians has fallen from 20% to around 5%.
“And a number of these countries are places where we have a big aid budget and a lot of influence.”
Tory MP Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) pointed out the UK has a £2 billion aid budget in the Middle East, asking what can be done with that to influence nations where persecution takes place.
The Cabinet minister paid tribute to the Department for International Development, saying it has put millions into promoting freedom of religious belief.
But Mr Hunt added: “Where we have a large aid budget with a country like Afghanistan for example, it is absolute essential we make clear to the government in those countries that we are expecting progress on freedom of religious belief.”
Labour’s Helen Jones (Warrington North) said he could go “one step further in contesting the persecution of Christians around the world” by offering asylum in the UK to Asia Bibi, who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in Pakistan, though she was acquitted earlier this year.
The Foreign Secretary said that “making sure she is safe” is a “top priority for this Government”, saying that he has had “numerous discussions” with the Pakistani government and is “hopeful we will see a positive outcome”.