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Q&A with Open Doors Head of Advocacy

Dr. Matthew Reese

Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland

A new report, commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, into the persecution of Christians around the world, was released on 8 July 2019. Open Doors’ Head of Advocacy Dr Matthew Rees answers some questions about the report and its implications.

What is this report and why was it commissioned?

Back in December 2018, the Foreign Secretary asked the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mountstephen, to conduct a review into what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is doing to support persecuted Christians worldwide to see if there was more the UK government could be doing. 

The review highlights what Open Doors has been telling the UK government for many years: that the persecution of Christians is an escalating issue that must be prioritised. 

What has the report said about persecution?

The review highlights a number of focus countries – Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Syria and Iraq – and looks at specific cases of persecution that have taken place in these countries. It comments on what the UK’s diplomatic posts in these countries did and highlights examples of good practice, as well as noting where the response could have been better. 

You seem to know a lot about the report; has Open Doors been involved?

Yes! Open Doors provided a large amount of robust evidence to the report, highlighting clear cases of persecution which the review could use as part of their assessment. We’re very pleased that this evidence has been used. 

What does Open Doors hope to see come out of this?

In short, it is really important that the issue of persecuted Christians becomes more widely recognised. The more recognition there is, the more voices will be involved and, therefore, there will be more creative ideas moving forward to tackle this huge issue. 

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt speaking at the launch of the 2019 World Watch List

Is Open Doors happy with the findings of the report?

It’s great that the review exists because it has opened up a conversation and it has highlighted to diplomats and civil servants the need to take this huge issue really seriously. But this is just the beginning. It’s vital that we insist that this issue remains a priority.   

Open Doors is calling on the UK government to make tackling the persecution of Christians a key priority across government and to ensure that freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is mainstream at the Foreign and Commonwealth and the Department for International Development (DfID). 

FoRB is a key human right which, when violated, signals that other human rights are probably being violated too. It is therefore a key signifier of progress when the international right to FoRB is genuinely upheld in a country. 

What are the key recommendations that Open Doors is asking of the government?

  1. Pursue progress: Identify key priority countries in which to tackle the persecution of Christians
  2. Keep focused: Make the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB an expanded and permanent role
  3. Involve local communities: Local faith leaders are embedded in their communities, and often remain in dangerous places. They can be key players in development programmes. 

The prime minister’s special what?

Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The position was created by Theresa May in July 2018 as a commitment to religious tolerance and is currently held by Lord Ahmad. Open Doors welcomed the role and had been lobbying the government for greater leadership on the issue for many years.  

Now Open Doors is calling for the role to have increased capacity so that good-quality research and relations with expert NGOs can be better developed, the special envoy should be involved in discussions with the Department for International Trade around trade agreements post-Brexit to ensure that FoRB is at the heart of any deal. 

Now that the persecution of Christians has been recognised as a crucial issue by the Truro review, an individual with the specific role of working on the persecution of Christians should be appointed within the envoy’s team

What about the leadership contest? What if Jeremy Hunt is no longer foreign secretary? 

We need to make sure the next prime minister and foreign secretary prioritise this and, if there’s an election, the next government too. 

This isn’t a party political issue or an issue owned by one leader. It’s an issue for everyone. Open Doors wants to see a clear political consensus emerge around it.

With the Conservative party choosing a new leader and with an imminent cabinet reshuffle, there’s no guarantee that this issue will remain on the agenda – unless you insist that it stays there.

What can I do to help insist this issue remains on the agenda?

I’m glad you asked! Here at Open Doors we have seen countless times that when you speak out our government listens. 

Join us in calling on your MP to support Open Doors’ recommendations for action today. Email your MP and insist that tackling the persecution of Christians remains on the agenda, no matter who is the foreign secretary or which party is in government.