MPs from across the political spectrum heard first-hand about Christian persecution and how the UK Parliament can respond.
16 January 2020
"It is also disheartening to learn from Open Doors' report that the number of Christians living in countries where they are at risk of high to extreme levels of persecution has increased to 260 million people. [...] This is an alarming trend. We must not sit idly by. The United Kingdom will not sit idly by." These words from Rehman Chishti, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, will be welcomed by all the supporters who invited their MP to the Parliamentary launch of the World Watch List 2020.
Rehman Chishti, speaking at the World Watch List Parliamentary launch
It was very encouraging to see 123 MPs from across the political spectrum gather to hear first-hand about the persecution of Christians around the world, and listen to the recommendations from the Open Doors report about how our Parliament can best respond. This is the highest number of MPs who’ve ever attended a World Watch List launch – thank you so much for praying and inviting.
Chishti spoke about the 5,500 churches destroyed or closed down in China, the 1,445 physical attacks of Christians in India and the 1,350 believers murdered in Nigeria over the past twelve months, and called for MPs to do what they can to ensure that freedom of religion or belief is respected as a human right on the world stage.
This was echoed by Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland: “We would like to urge all parliamentarians to keep the issue of the persecution of Christians on the agenda. Please keeping talking about it!”
"Tackling religious intolerance and persecution is a key foreign policy and development policy challenge," Chishti continued, "because where freedom of religion or belief is under attack, other human rights are threatened too. Societies that aim to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief are more stable, are more prosperous and likely to be more resilient against violent extremism.
"It is absolutely vital, rather than simply directing aid through humanitarian channels, that we support the fantastic work going on by faith organisations on the ground, because they are able to reach some of the hardest and most difficult areas that humanitarian channels are not able to reach."
The event was opened by the host, the Rt Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, who introduced Pastor Abdalla from Syria and Sunil* from Sri Lanka, who spoke first-hand about Christian persecution to the assembled parliamentarians.
"What we long for is this: freedom to exercise our own faith. We are hoping to see a day when believers in every village can worship together without resistance and violence," said Sunil, an Open Doors partner who worked closely with the injured and mourning after the Easter church attacks in Sri Lanka.
“Because of the dangers to the Christian community from extremists, Christians are leaving the country in great numbers. More than 60% of Syria’s Christians have left the country. But we are determined to stay,” said Pastor Abdalla, who runs a Centre of Hope in Aleppo, supported by your gifts and prayers. "Please do not forget the Christian community in Syria. We are a minority, and yet we are determined to do all we can to rebuild and strengthen our country."
Many thanks to all the parliamentarians who attended – and particularly thanks to you, Open Doors supporters, who invited them to the event and continue to show how important the issue of Christian persecution is. We know that MPs respond to the topics raised by their constituents, and Rehman Chishti said that freedom of religion or belief was the second most commonly raised issue with the Foreign Office.
Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum shared their support for Open Doors’ recommendations and for freedom of religion. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, tweeted that the report will ‘inspire the UK to do more to use our global network and UNSC seat to champion freedom of religion and belief’.
“The report makes for sobering reading and we must stand with all those who are persecuted for their beliefs around the world,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, Welsh Labour MP for Torfaen, while Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, commented “Inspiring talk from Pastor Abdalla, who has bravely chosen to stay in Syria to support his congregation in Aleppo.”
Taiwo Owatemi, Labour MP for Coventry North West, tweeted that “So much more needs to be done to tackle faith-based persecution around the world”, and Jamie Stone, Lib Dem MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, wrote that he was ‘glad to support Open Doors today in Parliament as they raise awareness of persecution towards Christians around the world’. He added: “Lib Dems support freedom of religion or belief for those of all faiths and none.”
“As a new MP, I attended Open Doors’ World Watch List launch in Parliament for the first time in January 2018," said David Linden, SNP MP for Glasgow East. "It was an insightful and significant event, and I left feeling armed to take strategic action on the important issue of Christian persecution across the world.”
Many other Parliamentarians mentioned their support on social media, and it was encouraging to see so many MPs engaged and interested in a very full room. Thank you again to everyone who prayed and invited!
*Name changed for security reasons
The room was very busy during the launch, and we may have missed a few parliamentarians who attended, but below is a list of the confirmed attendees - more than any previous World Watch List launch! If your MP is on the list, you could get in touch to thank them for attending. By simply raising the issue and voicing your concern, you have shown the importance of freedom of religion or belief.
Preet Kaur Gill
15 January 2020
Later today (15 January 2020), the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List will be live on our website from 1pm, and will be launched formally at an event in Parliament at 4pm, hosted again by the Rt Hon. Theresa Villiers, MP.
Pastor Abdalla from Syria and Sunil* from Sri Lanka will be speaking at the parliamentary launch, sharing the struggles of our persecuted sisters and brothers. Please pray that they will speak boldly, and that God would move in the hearts of everyone in attendance so that real change will be enacted on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world.
The Open Doors World Watch List is the annual ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult and dangerous to follow Jesus. North Korea has been number one on the list since 2002 – will it still be number one in 2020?
Thank you to everyone who has invited their MP to the launch! It’s your voice that makes our government sit up and pay attention to the suffering – but also the courage – of our persecuted church family.
*Name has been changed for security reasons
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.