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Embassies urged to help Eritrean Christians

28 July 2017

iSTOCK

Raising issues: Westminster Hall, at the Houses of Parliament

Raising issues: Westminster Hall, at the Houses of Parliament

THE continued house arrest of the Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch, Abune Antonios, for the past ten years was raised in the House of Commons this month during a debate on the part played by British em­­­bassies in tackling the persecu­tion of Christians.

The detention of the Patriarch, who is 89, comes at a time when Eritrean authorities are continuing to clamp down on the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Jim Shannon, of the DUP, told MPs that 122 Eritrean Christians were de­­­tained in May. “Many of those detained have been subject to torture by being kept in metal shipping containers, without water, and flogged,” he said.

“In May, all members of the Kale Hiwot Church in Adi Quala were detained, including 12 children. Chil­­­dren are seen as a threat by some governments. . . They are young enough to understand the powerful words of the Bible, but, at the same time, governments see them as a threat.”

The debate was held in West­minster Hall, which provides back­bench MPs with an opportunity to raise issues of concern.

Mr Shannon, who moved the debate, highlighted other examples. “The situation in Syria is character­ised by heavy persecution of all types of Christians in areas held by ISIS and other Islamic militants,” he said. “In those areas, Christians are often given the ul­­­tima­tum: convert to Islam or die.”

Dame Caroline Spelman MP, the Second Church Estate Commis­sioner, said that she was “delighted” that the Foreign Office had reissued a “toolkit” to embassies with guide­lines about the priority of freedom of religion. “We want to be abso­lutely sure, however, that that book of guidelines does not sit on the shelf gathering dust.”

Dame Caroline also raised the case of Taimoor Raza, who was sentenced to death last month by a Pakistan court for blasphemy on Facebook. She said that the Church of England would be “paying close attention to that case”.

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