by Amit Roy
BRITISH foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is quite right to announce that the UK will use its moral authority to speak up for an estimated 215 million persecuted Christians around the world. However, his words would carry greater conviction if Britain were seen to be less reluctant to offer asylum to Asia Bibi in Pakistan.
She is the Christian mother who remains in hiding despite having blasphemy charges against her thrown out by the Supreme Court in Pakistan. It is said prime minister Theresa May fears possible retaliation against British interests in Pakistan and elsewhere if Bibi is given shelter in Britain.
It seems May, a vicar’s daughter, would like Bibi to be offered asylum – only, not in Britain.
Although Pakistan’s blasphemy laws make it an obvious target for criticism, there has been a shameful increase in the number of attacks on Christians in India as well in recent years. With 28 million followers, Christians make up only 2.3 per cent of India’s population. As someone who attended the Catholic-run St Xavier’s in Patna, I find it especially painful when thugs attack Christian places of worship.
Hunt said: “Britain has long championed international religious freedom and the prime minister underlined our global leadership on this issue when she appointed my excellent colleague Lord Ahmad as her special envoy on freedom of religion or belief. So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority.”
He announced he had asked Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, “to look at how the British government can better respond to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world” and report to him by Easter.
Naming and shaming India could lead to a clash with prime minister Narendra Modi’s government. However, if the findings are disputed, Britain would only have to point out examples of persecution of Christians prominently reported in Indian newspapers.
Two days before Christmas, beer bottles were smashed on the heads of churchgoers who formed a ring around the rest of the congregation to protect them from an armed group that had barged into a church in Maharashtra.
In one of the worst atrocities, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, and his sons Philip and Timothy, aged 10 and six respectively, were burnt to death by a gang of Hindu Bajrang Dal fundamentalists while sleeping in their station wagon in a village in Odisha on 23 January 1999.
India must remain a secular country where all, especially minorities, are free to practise their faiths.