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Warsi moves freedom of religion up policy agenda

25 January 2013

On the road: Christian villagers protest at a rally in Islamabad, after the onset of the blasphemy-charge case against Rimsha Masih, last September

On the road: Christian villagers protest at a rally in Islamabad, after the onset of the blasphemy-charge case against Rimsha Masih, last Sept...

MINISTERS and ambassadors from around the world met in London on Tuesday to discuss religious intolerance and freedom of belief.

The meeting was convened by Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office, and Minister for Faith and Communities, who is a practising Muslim.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said that freedom of religion was "a plank at the heart of our human-rights agenda, and this first meeting will enable us to discuss how we can move international discussions forward on these issues within the framework of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18.

"We also want to build a deeper understanding of the shared issues we face together, and to understand more about each other's viewpoints. Through this we hope to be able to build a stronger international consensus on the issues of how best to deal with religious intolerance, and guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief for all."

On the same day as this meeting, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, moved a short debate in the House of Lords on the question what the Government's "strategy [is] for promoting freedom of religion and conscience internationally as a fundamental human right, and as a source of stability for all countries".

Introducing the debate, Bishop Hill said: "The European Union is developing guidelines on freedom of religion or belief, but, like many things in relation to the EU, greater transparency would be welcome."

Bishop Hill continued: "The Foreign Secretary has an important advisory group on human rights; but should there not also be some group, under the minister, on religious freedom, to work with the Foreign Secretary's group?"

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, spoke of "the increasing abuse of blasphemy laws across the world".

He said: "The Church of Pakistan has actively challenged the misuse of blasphemy laws in that country, which has led to the persecution of both Hindus and Christians, and which, in particular, appears to be used to prevent Muslims from converting to another religion or to no religion."

Bishop Packer asked whether the Government would make it clear "that countries which pass discriminatory legislation such as repressive blasphemy laws . . . risk their reputation in the international community?"

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